I thought I might never experience a cruise.... Until I found this one, which had no single supplement (that is, no additional $$ for having only one person in the stateroom). That, and the fact that I could drive to Charleston in less than 4-hours from my home in NC. (For an overview of the cruise, here's a link to my video: http://vimeo.com/84613460. You may have to copy and paste this link into your browser.)
Hotel/Park & Cruise:
Embarkation was on Sun, 1/5/14, at 5pm, I drove down the day before, so as not to be hurried the next day. I picked the Quality Inn at Patriot's Point because of the decent rate and, especially, because they had the Charleston Cruise & Fly program. This is the only way to go: included in the hotel 1-night rate is parking for the car for the week, _plus_ transportation to the cruise terminal and back. Since parking one's car at the port costs $17/day (i.e., $85 for the 5-days), the net cost of the hotel is minimal. I went into Charleston Sat night for dinner, and can highly recommend Hyman's Seafood on Meeting Street. Fresh and fabulous oysters, scallops and crab cake.
After leisurely breakfast at the hotel (and last-minute use of the wi-fi signal), the van arrived at noon-ish, and took us cruise passengers over the Ravenal Bridge, right up to the cruise terminal's luggage drop-off (1st station). No waiting in line to park. Since I had no bags to check - only carry-on - I breezed through the check-in process, and was on the ship within a half-hour of arrival at the terminal (i.e., onboard @ 12:45). They said the rooms wouldn't be ready 'til 1:30-ish, but I headed (with my bags) right to my room, met and chatted with my cabin steward, and left my bags there while I headed up to lunch at the Fantasy's Windows On The Sea buffet, and a ship-familiarization walk-about.
Although I booked this cruise a couple of months in advance, there wasn't a huge selection of cabins available at the no-single-supplement rate. However, after some research on "best cabins," and with some guidance from the agent with whom I booked the cruise (Rory Pabon, Vacations-To-Go; firstname.lastname@example.org), I was able to get cabin #U227. This worked-out great! U227 is an "Oceanview" cabin at the aft-end of the ship, on the Upper deck (deck 6). Being away from the main traffic routes, and on a deck with no noise-making activity decks above and below it, I was very well insulated from any potential sleep-wrecking sounds. (That, and because I brought a "white noise" machine, with which I always travel. You'll also want to bring a power strip/surge protector, into which you can plug it, and a clock, etc.) You're also allowed to bring aboard several 20 oz bottles of soft drinks, and up to 750 ml of wine - which I did. The Fantasy cabins don't have mini-fridges, but the cabin steward (if asked) will keep your in-cabin ice bucket refreshed.
Carnival's Fantasy, built in 1990, is one of the older (and smaller) ships in Carnival's fleet. But, it's age and size were absolutely no factors in my enjoyment of the experience. I'd say that the Fantasy reminded me more of a "downtown" Las Vegas hotel/casino than a Vegas "Strip" property. Both nice; both glitzy; but, in different ways.... • I tried to partake of as many of the Fantasy's leisure venues as possible - with the exception of the Lido deck pool, and the top deck waterslides, etc. The January, northern hemisphere weather was just too chilly (and windy) for seeking the sun. Luckily, the hot tubs were working and welcoming on the Fantasy's adults-only (i.e., no kids) "Serenity" deck - at the stern of the ship, on the Promenade deck. Nice. • I caught both of the "main event" shows ("The Brits," and "Motown") in the Universe main lounge, and a couple of the comedy shows (which were really pretty good). There were a lot of nice areas in which one could just "hang out." I might simply find an easy chair on the Promenade, or even a table in the Buffet area, where I could look out at the ocean, watch the people in the passing parade, and maybe watch a movie on my laptop. ...Pretty much the very definition of "chilling out." • As is my habit when I'm someplace near a casino, I was a visitor to the Fantasy's "Club 21 Casino" blackjack tables. Before dinner, or after a show, the Casino was always open to try to part one from one's money. However, over four or five blackjack sessions during the cruise, I was a net winner. Nothing big, but enough to buy my meals and drinks while in-port in Nassau.... (Tip: buy your chips with cash, rather than your Sign & Sail card - they charge a 3% fee on the latter, as it's classified as a cash advance on your c.c.)
I chose the "Any Time Dining" option, rather than the early (6:00pm) or late (8:30pm) fixed seating plans. As a single, I wanted the flexibility of the ATD seating that would usually put me at a two-top table, but close enough to adjoining tables so as to make acquaintances without actually being at their table. It worked out very well. That early/late/ATD schedule only applies at dinner, in the formal Celebration dining room. Most often, I did non-dinner meals at the Buffet on the Lido deck. And, I even took advantage of the cost-included room service for breakfast a couple of times. I could get used to this.... • The quality of the food exceeded my expectations. The buffet offerings were as good or better than any Golden Corral or cafeteria chain. And, of course, since the food is included in the cruise price, you could always go back for that second portion of something you particularly liked. If you've gotta have drinks or wine (even soft drinks) with your meals, you will pay through the nose. Booze is one of the ways the cruise business makes its profits. I don't "need" it, so my iced tea, lemonade, coffee, cocoa, etc., were all included. I was also reasonably well-impressed with the dinner offerings I tried in the Celebration dining room. The plating and presentation was a higher priority here. But, preparation and flavors were high-caliber as well. Think of it as on-par with a banquet dinner at a high-end hotel (Ritz-Carlton, etc.). And, the ultimate beauty of it is that you don't have to settle for just one, single appetizer, entrée, and dessert.... Can't decide between two tasty-sounding appetizers - order both! This is perfectly acceptable, and even expected - just order all at once, rather than having the wait-staff running back-and-forth for your add-ons. For example, on the "Cruise Elegant" dining night, when they served lobster tails, I ordered THREE (3) of these delicacies as an appetizer, then, the roast prime rib for my entree. I LOVE this cruising stuff...!
The Fantasy's itinerary was planned as follows: Sun 1/5 evening - leave Charleston; Mon 1/6 - day at sea; Tue 1/7 8am-5pm - in-port at Freeport, Bahamas; Wed 1/8 8am-5pm - in-port at Nassau, Bahamas; Thu 1/9 - day at sea; Fri 1/10 8am - debark Charleston.
I, purposely, had not booked any shore excursions - either in Freeport, or Nassau, My plan, upon arrival in-port, was to seek-out someplace near the ship with a wi-fi signal, do my e-mailing, social networking, etc., then secure my laptop back aboard the ship. Then, I'd de-board again, hit a few local sights, have lunch, take a few photos, etc., before returning to the ship.
When we arrived at Freeport in the morning, the Captain announced that - because winds were gusting up to 40 knots - we were NOT going to be able to dock at Freeport. I felt sorry for all the people who had booked shore excursions (swimming with dolphins, etc.). Ok, on to Nassau, then....
On the other hand, Nassau went pretty much according to my plans. When we docked, I walked a few blocks to a Starbucks, and used their wi-fi ($3/hr) while having coffee. There were all kinds of jaunts and excursions being peddled at the port, but I had learned of the local, #10 jitney (bus/van) that would transport you - for $1.25 one-way - along a waterfront route, out to the resorts, etc., west of Nassau. I was headed for lunch at a collection of restaurants known as "Da Fish Fry." There, at one of the more "famous" of these local seafood establishments - Twin Brothers - I indulged in some of the local, Bahamian cuisine that included different preparations of conch (pronounced "conk"): first, conch chowder; then "cracked conch" (breaded and deep-fried strips of conch - like clam strips, only bigger); and, of course, a local Kalik beer to wash it down. Very, very good!
Da Fish Fry is located about a mile and a half from the port, at the edge of Junkanoo Beach. As said, it was a little too cool, and only sporadically sunny, for me to do any "basking," but I wandered along the beach, taking photos, etc., 'til it was time to return to the ship. Mission accomplished....
Once back at the Port of Charleston, when it came time to debark (leave) the ship around 8am Fri morning, was when my bringing only carry-on bags really paid-off. People with checked bags had to leave them outside their stateroom the night before, and wait for a certain time when their de-boarding group could exit. Then, of course, bunches of people, with their claimed bags, descended upon U.S. Customs.
I, as a "self-assist" baggage carrier, could leave whenever I wanted to. So, I had a final, leisurely breakfast at the Windows On the Sea buffet, then headed off the Fantasy at about 8:15. I was through Customs in minutes, and, outside the terminal, my pickup ride was waiting to whisk me back to my car. I was on I-26, on my way back home, by 9:00 a.m. Completely hassle-free, and very cost effective....
Good time! Very enjoyable! I can certainly now see how some people get hooked on cruising. I'll be keeping my eyes open for another opportunity....
Again, here are video and photo records of the voyage:
(You may have to copy and paste these links into your browser.)