This was my fourth cruise (all with Carnival) and my boyfriend's first cruise. We're both 22 year old college students on Spring Break. We chose this cruise because of the great price and location of Jacksonville (we flew in from Illinois and tickets were pretty cheap as well). Overall, we had a GREAT time, and really enjoyed the whole cruise including the ship, the ports, the dining, and the whole experience.
Getting to Jacksonville was a nightmare. Chicago O'Hare was delayed about 3 hours and one of our connecting flights actually got cancelled. After 4 different airports, we finally made it about 12 hours later (3 hours less than it would have taken to actually drive there). We stayed at the Jacksonville Plaza and chose the Sail and Save package. It was a great value, and provides a shuttle that picks you up from the airport, takes you to the sea port on the day of your cruise, and provides a shuttle the day of disembarkation to either take you back to the hotel or to the airport. I would highly recommend choosing a hotel that provides free shuttles, as taking taxis can get expensive.
We took the 12:30 shuttle to the sea port and arrived around 12:45. The last cruise I took was the Valor out of Miami in June 2012. Embarkation in Miami is dreadful..long line after long line, then waiting for your zone to be called to board the ship so I was really preparing for the worst for this embarkation. To my surprise, it was the easiest embarkation I have ever experienced. With only around 2,000 passengers, the lines were basically non-existent and we walked right up to the metal detectors and security, and after that the whole process took about 15 minutes.
The Fascination is a lot smaller than the Valor which I've been on twice. It was a little different, but overall I really enjoyed it. The Water Works area was facing a different way than the main pool, so there really weren't that many kids around the main pool. Deck chairs were pretty easy to get, and we laid out all day during our Fun Day at Sea.
The Atrium is pretty, and the glass elevators are always cool to take. The ship is pretty easy to navigate. We did get lost a couple times, but I feel like that inevitable. I had read that the ship was worn down, but I didn't think so at all! The Lido Deck and pool area was really nice, and they take good care of it.
Our cabin (an interior on the Upper Deck) was already ready by the time we got there. For the price, it really was a great value. This was my first time in an interior cabin. I didn't hate it, but if you can afford to, I would definitely recommend ocean view. For the two of us, it was PLENTY of room. You really are provided with a lot of closet space and shelving for your items. The twin beds were pushed together and we thought our bed was very comfortable. The bathroom was just fine as well.. I wish they had a shelf in the shower to place your toiletries, but other than that it was perfect. Our cabin stewards were great, they learned our names the first time they saw us, and greeted us in the hallway every time we saw them. They do an excellent job of tidying up the room during the day and night when you're not in the cabin. As always, I love the towel animals we come back to after dinner!
The buffet on the Lido Deck - Coconut Grove was good not great. We only ate there twice, both times for lunch. I wasn't too impressed with the pizza, but the salad bar was good, as was the grill. I'm a huge fan of the 24 hour frozen yogurt and ice cream machines, and the desserts were good at Coconut Grove as well.
We went to Sea Day Brunch on our one Fun Day at Sea because Carnival left me a free drink voucher in the cabin for being a past guest that I could use at breakfast or brunch in the main dining room. Breakfast and service were great, and my mimosa was too!
I have always been a fan of the main dining room on Carnival, and this was no different. We had the early dining in the Sensation Dining Room. To be fair, I'm a vegetarian, and it's not everyday I get a vegetarian fine dining experience. I absolutely loved everything I got. Three out of four nights I ordered the vegetarian entree, and on the fourth night I tried Indian food for the first time from the everyday menu and loved it! My boyfriend is far from a vegetarian, and enjoyed steak, crab, tilapia, and especially the lobster on Elegant Night. I'm sure it goes without saying, but we enjoyed the chocolate melting cake every night. It is unbelievably good! We brought two bottles of wine on board (one per person) and took one to dinner, and left one in the cabin. Our wonderful wait staff "forgot" to charge us the $10.00 corking fee, which we couldn't complain about.
I had been to Nassau once before on a Carnival cruise, but that was about 6 years ago, and all I remembered was that it rained while we were there. I did a lot of research on excursions not through Carnival because I think they're far too overpriced. We decided on the Hilton Day Pass which i purchased through http://bahamascruiseexcursions.com/nassauhiltonresortpass.htm. This was my first cruise without my parents, and I was hesitant to choose anything that required a cab or taxi. I picked this excursion because of the price, and it was within walking distance of the port (about 15-20 minutes). It was $60.00 each, but you each get a $40.00 credit for food at their patio bar and grille. They have burgers, wraps, sandwiches, and salads. The Hilton was beautiful, I wouldn't mind staying there for a week on a land vacation! They have a really nice pool area with lounge chairs, beds, and hammocks. After you pass the pool and bar area you can head down to the beach which is where we spent the day. The beach itself is rather small, but it is gorgeous! We found two lounge chairs and practically didn't leave them all day. It's a really quiet, low key beach, if that's what you're looking for. Might not be great for kids, but they did have boogie boards and kayaks that guests could use. Overall, this was a GREAT buy and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a lazy day on the beach. We ate lunch at the bar, and got two drinks each and even with 15% gratuity included, only spent $75 of our $80 credit.
The city of Nassau itself is not great. So many vendors trying to sell you things and get you to take a ride in their cab or buy whatever piece of junk they have. I understand that tourism is their livelihood, but it really isn't a pleasant city to just walk around in. I would recommend booking an excursion before you get to Nassau to avoid staying around the port any longer than you have to.
I had read some pretty terrible reviews on CC about Freeport, so I was bracing myself for the worst. To our surprise, we actually preferred Freeport to Nassau. When you get off the ship, there's no vendors yelling in your face, and the area to wait for you excursion is right off the port. There were lots of colorful shops and restaurants around the sea port, but we never did do any shopping. We were only in Freeport from 7-2, so our options were kind of limited as to what we could do. Again, I really did my research, and decided to book an excursion not through Carnival. I read a lot of reviews about Paradise Cove/Deadman's Reef snorkeling (www.deadmansreef.com), and booked it because it was only $35/person for snorkeling gear, and transportation to and from the ship. We met our driver at 8:00. We left by 8:30 and took about a 20 minute bus ride to Paradise Cove. Along the way, our driver gave us a little tour and background info on the city of Freeport. When we got there, we got our snorkel gear and a little safety briefing. Then they turn you loose to snorkel on your own. They do offer a boat ride out to the reef for $5 I believe. Neither of us are really strong swimmers, but swimming out to the reef wasn't too bad. The reef was gorgeous, and I'm kicking myself for not buying a waterproof camera. On our way back to shore, we even saw a turtle! It was really cool. After snorkeling we rented beach chairs for $3/person and laid out. We ate lunch at the Red Bar which was super inexpensive (we both got burgers and drinks for $16 total). At 12, the driver took us back to the ship since he knew we had to be back on the boat by 1:30.
We had a GREAT day at Paradise Cove, I highly recommend it! You can't beat the price, and the views, beach, and snorkeling were all beautiful.
I can't give a great review about the onboard entertainment because we really didn't go to any shows or anything. We did go to invisible movie trivia, where they remove the character's face from a scene and you have to guess what movie it's from. That was a fun little game, and we enjoyed it. Every night we tried to make it to the comedian, but missed it either because we left too late, it was too crowded, or we were too tired. Although, from what I've read on CC, I don't think we missed much. We spent most of our nights in the casino playing Blackjack (my first time!). It was a fun way to spend our evenings, watching the drunk people lose all their money and flirt with the dealers.
We chose self-assist because we only had two bags. We left the room around 8:00 and waited on the Promenade deck until our floor was called. We got called around 9:00 and it took maybe 20-30 minutes to get off the ship. Customs was fast and easy and we were on our way. Waited for our shuttle and were at the airport by around 10:00-10:15.
I would definitely recommend this cruise if you are a first time cruiser or are looking for an easy cruise. 4 days is kind of short, but it didn't seem too short. Embarkation and disembarkation are really easy and the smaller ship was a nice change. Freeport and Nassau were both really fun for us! We had a great time and I can't wait to book our next cruise!