This was our sixth Carnival cruise, the third on the Fascination. We are a couple in our early 60's who live in the Atlanta area. We chose this cruise because friends asked us if we would go on a cruise with them, and since they had never been on a cruise we thought a five day would be the perfect length for a newbie. A three day is not long enough to get relaxed, and a seven day might be too long if they didn't enjoy it. We know that cruising is not for everyone, but for those who love it, you just cant get enough!
We drove down to Jacksonville the day before the cruise and stayed at the Holiday Inn Blount Island. This is a completely non smoking hotel, the closest to the port, with shuttle to the port, a free breakfast buffet, and proximity to no restaurants except Wendy's. Not so great if you dont have a car. We did notice people ordering pizza delivery. But we had a car, so for dinner we headed up to Sandollar restaurant on the river, and had an excellent meal. Watched the huge freighters leaving the port, they have a band on the deck of the restaurant, and they were playing music from my youth, the sky was clear, the temperature warm, the food very good-a great way to start off the vacation.
Our hotel room had some issues, like the smoke detecter was dangling from the ceiling, and when we made comment to the desk staff, they said someone would get to it tomorrow, But the room was clean, the shower worked, the staff was nice and friendly and helpful, so we were fine with staying there. Except we smoke. So when we wanted a cigarette we went outside, but why in heavens name do they put the smokers out by the front door? It just irritates the non smokers.
We had faster to the fun, and it should be renamed Fantastic to the fun! We were able to board the first shuttle to the ship, we walked right into check in, we had a 20 minute sit while they boarded the platinum and diamond, and then we walked on. We took our stuff up to the cabin (R4) so we didn't have to tote anything, and then I walked the newbie and her daughter to their cabin,(M114) so they didn't have to tote stuff, and then we took the elevator in the back of the ship up to the lido. The cabins were clean and ready, the lido was empty(relatively speaking) we didn't have to fight for a table, we got lunch (try the rotissserie )and chilled for a while, and then we went to look for a place to smoke.
While the ship is boarding they are also fueling, so no open flame at all on the lido. The balconies are locked, and the only place to go was the casino's star bar. Seems everyone who smoked was down there too, and again, to all you non smokers, we are sorry, because the star bar is on the promenade interior walkway, to some shops, to the serenity deck, well you get it, why they couldnt open up the Diamonds are Forever bar, with a door that closes is beyond me.
I guess here is a good place to put in my two whines. I know non smokers complain about us smokers. But there would be less of a problem if Carnival made more smoking areas available. Unless you have a balcony there is a only a small area on the lido to smoke, and that area is right by the doors that everyone has to walk through to get out on the lido deck. And at no time was this area quiet. Music was blasting the whole time, which made it impossible for anyone to enjoy. And the music choices were leaning towards a much younger crowd than the crowd that was actually out there. DJs really needs to rethink what they play based on the crowd on the deck. You couldn't hear any one talking, you cant have a conversation, it was awful. So Carnival if you read this, remember the following, we go on cruises to relax, please give the smokers someplace to smoke that wont disturb the non smokers, and a secondary place where it is quiet, we cant all afford balconies.
Back to sail away-everyone was in high spirits, no complaining at all, and the afternoon passed quickly and then there was the muster. We had section A, which is the theatre, so we grabbed a seat, saw how to put on our life jackets, went up to the deck, waited a few minutes (I read somewhere about being in the back, you can lean against the ship, and since I have a bad back we did this, thanks for that tip) and then muster was over, time to sail away. But our friends had a different muster station, so while we went up to the whale tail to go under the bridge, they went back to their balcony cabin, and did sail away from there.
We caught up with our friends, went up to the verandah deck and watched to ISS go over at 7:05, and went down to dinner. We had anytime dining, which we loved. The only night we had to wait for a table was the first night, and the wait was only 10 minutes, long enough to wander over to check out the price of smokes. All of the other evenings we walked right in. We went at 7 every night but the first night, so they had just finished serving the early seating, and we got all the songs and dances that the timed dining patrons got. Didn't miss a thing.
Unless you are glued to the person or persons you cruise with, you may all end up doing different things, so I was always late for trivia, but on this cruise with my newbie friend I did manage to catch the Hairy Man contest, (Ladies, dont miss this, it's a hoot!)but missed my roll call meet and greet. There are so many activities going on all the time, that even when you plan carefully, you cant make them all. There are some cruises you want to do everything, and others, you just want to chill. And we did a lot of relaxing. Or thought we did.
This cruise went to Nassau and Little Stirrup Cay. We discovered the Sheritan Day pass on our last cruise to Nassau, and we enjoyed it so much we decided to do that again. But watch out for the sidewalks in Nassau! While you are looking at what all the shops have to offer, you arent watching what your feet are doing, and there are trees planted along the road with grates uneven to the sidewalk, and my dear hubby (Catmando) fell on the way to the bus. He turned his ankle which was very painful to him, and after we picked him up, and sat him on a bench, not one minute later a woman fell in the same place. We still went to the Sheritan on the jitney,(still a buck twenty five)and got a day room which included the pass for 119.00 for the four of us. It does not include food, (food at the beach bar runs around 15.00 for a sandwich) beach, the pools, the hot tubs, and non motorized water equipment. An ocean breeze, the sound of the surf, and no crowds make this a wonderful place to go. On the bus, we did hear a rumor that Carnival may include the Sheritan as an excursion (Treasure Hunt). Because of hubby's fall we took a cab back to port for 20 dollars. Worth every penny.
Faster to the Fun really payed off when we got the tender to Little Stirrup Cay. We simply walked over to guest services, told them we were ready to go, they were holding the elevators for FTTF, Platinum and Diamond folks, and we were escorted down to the line. The left side was for us to exit the ship, the right side, everyone else.
Little Stirrup Cay is a nice small island. One side which has sand out to forever was too shallow to snorkel and hubby's foot was still bothering him too much to just wander, so we spent the afternoon in the snorkeling area. LSC is part of a group of 5 or 6 islands, and because of this there is no wild surf, but the snorkeling side is very rocky, wear water shoes. Carnival provides a picnic lunch, burgers, hot dogs, jerk chicken (yum)There are lots of picnic tables,so we sat and ate, and watched roosters and chickens (wild) and a few cats wander by. It rained on and off a few times, but these brief storms where so fast moving, that it was sunny and raining at the same time, great for rainbows!
Our last day at sea was great, again we did what we wanted and our friends did what they wanted, but Catmando and I did see a new show, Towel Animal Theatre, which while geared for the younger crowd, had enough adult humor to be quite fun. If you ever wanted to know what your towel animals are up to when you leave the room, this is a must see! Think of your elephant towel animal sing Towels Just want to Have fun, to Cyndi Laupers song. Puppet theater at it's best.
Every cruise I say I am going to try something new, so I went on the racers slide. I had never been on a water slide before! What fun! Then we got in the pool, and then to end the afternoon we went to the hot tubs at the serenity deck.
FTTF payed off on embarkation too, We were Level 1 to get off, we met in the Sensation (center) dining room, the Diamonds were called (one) the Platinum (about 25) and then the FTTF people. Luggage was ready, we grabbed our suitcases, walked out, and grabbed the shuttle back to the hotel. As Ryan our assistant cruise director says-Easy Peasy!
This was a fantastic cruise! For once the seas were calm (our last two cruises to the Bahamas during this time of year had been cold and the seas had been rough) but this was perfect! The food was good. Some things were overcooked, but most meals were spot on. We mixed up where we ate, all dinners except one were in the MDR. We did do lunch in the MDR on the sea days, we had several breakfasts up on the lido. The service is always given with a smile. I still havent done room service for a meal, guess that will have to wait until the next cruise. Our friends daughter who didnt feel like she had to go to bed by 10 did go to the adult comedy show, and said it was very good, oh well, next time...and there will be a next time ...soon!