We sailed from Charleston on February 16th. Our group included myself, my DH, and one teenager escaping from Connecticut's polar vortex, and my sister from Virginia escaping lots of snowstorms. We had hoped to have a few days to explore Charleston and had made dinner reservations at several noted restaurants. Unfortunately, due to a blizzard, our flights were cancelled and rescheduled for 2 days later. We did get to Charleston in time to have dinner Saturday evening at Burwell's Stone Fire Grill (excellent!) and we enjoyed a 90-minute bus tour from the Visitor's Center on Sunday morning, before heading to the port.
Which brings me to my only real complaint about this cruise. The self-parking and embarkation. Due to the city's restraints on the cruise line, you are brought into the parking in a maze-like manner with very little signage. We heard that the idea is to keep any cruise traffic away from the historic downtown. Even with GPS, it was completely frustrating winding through sketchy areas, one-way streets, and old warehouses to get to the parking lot—not your best view of a city noted for its beauty and architecture. The parking attendant was friendly and collected $85 for the parking fee. Once there, we wound though another maze, dropped our luggage, and finally reached a run-down warehouse which serves as the covered parking. (Seriously, $85 to park in a dilapidated warehouse?) We then joined a LONG line of people where we waited for buses to drive us to the terminal. There was zero Carnival presence at the warehouse, but there was an attendant at the front of the line. It was windy, cold and cheerless. I would not have minded as much if there had been a lot of buses, but they were few and far between. Eventually we boarded a bus with our carry-ons and were off to the terminal. Things improved greatly at this point as the bus driver was jovial and reassuring. Once we got to the terminal, security and check-in were very smooth and friendly. It finally began to feel like a vacation. This entire process took over an hour, mainly due to waiting for the buses, and it gave us much trepidation about disembarkation as we worried if we would get to the airport on time.
Note to the City of Charleston: I understand that you are an historic area, but please think about making the experience welcoming for tourists who will happily come and spend money in your city as part of their vacation. Please don't hide visitors in a warehouse; it's not welcoming and does not make me want to come back to your city. Extend some Southern charm!
Once onboard around 1:15 PM, we went straight to our port hole cabins on the Riveria Deck. They were delightful. Our steward, Bonartthia, met us. He proved to be wonderful, and kept us happy all week. It seemed that anytime we left the rooms, he magically appeared to straighten and refresh. The rooms were immaculate and quite roomy. The beds were super comfortable, and we had plenty of storage space. We did hear a lot of noise as we docked on port days, but it was kind of cool. The seas were calm and we barely felt the ship moving at all.
We enjoyed the anytime dining and only had to wait for a table once, on the last evening. We ate dinner all five dinners there,a few breakfasts, and also had the brunch on the two sea days. The food was quite good, and each meal had a variety of offerings. We especially enjoyed the steak and eggs with béarnaise sauce (brunch), the Grand Marnier Souffle (dessert), the Thai soup (dinner), and the Mahi Mahi (dinner). We had read some CC complaints about the food on the Fantasy and we were worried. No need. We enjoyed meal after delicious meal and several times had a table with a water view. Who could ask for more? The presentations were exceptional. The servings were not grossly large and you could have multiple servings if you liked. There was always a bread basket with fresh-baked offerings. We were seated in the same section a couple of times, and Gultekin and his team were exceptional. Special thanks to Gultekin who went the extra mile and procured pasta with parmesan for my son three nights in a row! We also had a terrific waiter named Gede at one dinner. The LIDO buffet was nice (especially the salad bar) if you needed quick service, but we much preferred the dining room.
We very much enjoyed afternoon tea in the Cleopatra Lounge on both sea days. While we did not need another meal, we could not help but sample the tasty dessert cart and tea sandwich offerings with our Bigelow tea. What fun! (Try the macaroons, yum!)
While there are not a lot of activities on the sea days, we were very happy to bask in the sun and were blessed with sunny skies and warm breezes. It was very difficult to get a deck chair, though. More chairs would be better! The Serenity Deck was especially crowded which was too bad because it looked lovely.
We had been to Nassau before and my husband had been to the Atlantis resort on business and thinks it is overpriced. We did not want to spend a lot of money since we had booked a ship's excursion for Freeport. We did a lot of research and had emailed the Melia hotel in advance of the trip to confirm that they offered a day pass. We took a 15-minute cab there ($25) and purchased day passes for $30 each. They had several pools and gorgeous sandy beach. It was a little chilly, but their main pool is heated. The atmosphere there is calm and relaxed which suited us fine. If you go, make sure you bring a towel, as the towel system at the Melia was a complete mystery. They had a poolside restaurant that had a long line and an expensive list of offerings ($19 for a burger!), so we skipped lunch. After a few hours we took a cab back to the ship ($20) and had a late lunch at the LIDO buffet.
We had read a lot of negatives about Freeport. I was pleasantly surprised that the port was, while in an industrial marina, was clean and bright with cheerful shops and awnings. The port is a 25-miute ride from the sights, so I would advise an excursion if you're going to Freeport. There are some really cool ones, including some ecotours to see the Blue Holes, so there's no excuse to just say "There's nothing in Freeport!" We had booked a biking adventure through Carnival. We took a bus with a group of 18, boarded our bikes and enjoyed 12.5 miles of biking. The exercise felt great after all the meals we had been indulging in! Our guides, Leroy and Johnny, we excellent. Leroy shared his passion for his country and related many facts about the history of Grand Bahama. We visited the Garden of the Grove (lovely), Taino Beach (beautiful), and peeked though the fence at the dolphin sanctuary (sounds lame, but it was interesting and we did spot a few dolphins). Carnival could have done a more detailed job of explaining all that this excursion offered; it was well worth the $89 fee. The trip had advertised a snack, but we had our choice of several sandwiches, chips and drinks. Leroy provided lots of water bottles so you don't need to bring water. The also ferried backpacks, so if you bring along swimming suits/towels, etc. you don't need to bike with your load. The bike ride ended at Junkanoo Beach Club for an hour of swimming and sunning. The water was a little cold, so we didn't swim, but enjoyed the view and a cocktail. After the hour was up, they drive us to Port Lucaya Marketplace which looked nice, but we opted to go back to the ship. The excursion was described as 5.5 hours, but was closer to 7, so we were ready for a rest.
The entertainment on board was what you would expect....some shows (we did not do those), two comedians (Dean was hysterical!), a piano bar player (Seth Gibson, wonderful!) There were two musicians (Zoe and I forgot to the other one's name) who played in the atrium. Both were excellent and if you did have to wait for dinner, you could enjoy the sounds.
The Fantasy may be an older ship but it was clean and meticulously maintained. The staff were beyond friendly; they seemed really glad you were on board. The cruise director, Shorty, was a lovely person who had a fun, engaging manner with all. She seemed to be everywhere, and her enthusiasm was infectious. We had read that the Fantasy was smoky and that was true on certain areas near the casino. We were very happy to be on the R deck. Nice and quiet and away from the fray. However, one of the elevators was out of commission all week, so it was a pain in the neck getting an elevator. However, after all the meals, we decided we needed to take the stairs anyway. The spa, gym, and public areas were all very nice and again, meticulously clean. There are many lovely decks to watch the sunrise or sunset, and the walking track has gorgeous views.
While we had been very worried about disembarking, it actually went smoothly. We carried our own luggage off, and within an hour from leaving our rooms, we were at the airport. Not bad!
All in all, we had a marvelous time. Sunshine, great food, lovely port days, and wonderful staff. It was a Fantas-tic vacation that was an excellent value. The other passengers, mostly families, were nice, well-dressed, and happy to be on vacation.