My wife and teenage sons discovered cruising last Christmas (2012) when we sailed Celebrity from Ft. Lauderdale. The experience was so outstanding that I immediately booked a Royal Caribbean cruise for last summer. That was even better. With all we've heard about Carnival over the last few years - and knowing it was considered a "step down" from our previous lines - we all entered this experience with low expectations. Ultimately, Carnival gave us an outstanding trip that compared well to our first two experiences.
There's no way the Fantasy can compare to the Silhouette or the Freedom of the Seas. In short, the interior is kind of ugly. They could easily fix this by replacing the carpet throughout and turning the lounge into a theater. What we found however, was excellent food and all in all outstanding service from a very pleasant and exceedingly hard working crew of 900 people from 90 different countries. When I say they work hard on this ship, believe me. I've never seen such cleaning in my life!
i worried that a cruise at Christmas (we sailed 12/26 - 12/31) would be too crowded for a ship that had only one pool (yes, that's still hard to believe even as I type). But it worked! The water slides were great and of course, the hot tubs were always full. Still, it all worked just fine.
While Port Charleston is depressing looking, the embarkation and debarkation experiences were both flawless. In fact, we were on the ship within 20 minutes of entering the building and through Customs in less than 10 minutes after leaving the ship last Tuesday. Even the US Customs agent was exceedingly pleasant!
Our stateroom was fine - our first without a veranda and at first I thought we should have upgraded but the Fantasy has few balconies and after a few hours, I didn't miss being able to be outside (though without a veranda there was never a need for room service).
Our Stateroom attendant was very good and tried hard to get to know us - as did our waiter. Cruise director Resa was fine - but Shelly - who pulled bingo balls was outstanding. Entertainment was good - though not as strong as it is on other lines. We were stuck with late dining at 8:15 each night and the shows were almost always at 9:30 which didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Still, we managed. The talent show was entertaining and well done. The Love and Marriage game was boring compared to the one on the Freedom of the Seas (then again, if you have ever had Richard from the Freedom as your cruise director, you know what I mean). The Motor City musical review was good as well - though none of it compared to the quality of shows we saw on Celebrity or RCI (admittedly, they were not all standouts, however). We missed the Hasbro game show, enjoyed Kareoke and watched Grease at 11:45 one night and Iron Man 3 the next.
For a relatively small ship, it took a while to figure out. Nassau is a great stop though the excursion we did there (Atlantis water park) was very expensive - but worth every penny). Feeport is nothing and my wife and I went to the straw market but returned to the ship immediately. In fact, I hear Carnival is dumping Freeport as a port later this month (at least temporarily)
The entire experience was great. We did not encounter the rowdy crowd we had been told to expect on Carnival. This could be because it was Christmas week with a lot of families on board. Most of the passengers were, like us, from NC so perhaps that's why everyone was so friendly! :-) In addition, we did NOT find more smokers on Carnival than on either Celebrity or Royal
Overall, I'd say all three cruise experiences were outstanding. Would I cruise Carnival again? Absolutely! In fact, my wife is going on the Celebration later this month and one of my sons will be on the Freedom later this year. Without question, my favorite experience has been Royal and we plan to be on the Quantum a year from now. Still, I'd recommend the Carnival Fantasy to anyone. Charleston is a dream port and the entire experience is one we all loved.