Background....this was my husband and my 9th cruise and first on Carnival and my daughters 5th cruise and first on Carnival. We have cruised mostly with NCL but have also sailed Princess and Royal Caribbean. This cruise was booked last minute for March Break because we wanted to get away from the northern cold and snow!
Drive to the Port......we drove from southwestern Ontario Canada. The first night we stopped in Charlotte, NC and stayed at the Home 2 by Hilton right off the 26. We would definitely stay there again. In the morning we drove the additional 3 hours to the port. As has been stated before, Charleston is certainly an interesting port to drive and park at. Althought it took a good 30-40 minutes to get the car parked it wasn't the end of the world although I would rather drive and park at the port of Baltimore or Brooklyn any day instead because of the ease of the process.
Ship......This is our first experience with Carnival. We have avoided it due to the reputation of being "party ships". Since it was Spring Break we expected lots of college kids so we came prepared. First off, we did purchase Faster to the Fun. It is worth every penny. Within 20 minutes of being on the ship our luggage was at our room (inside on Rivera deck). We were unpacked and off to check out the ship. At first glance I thought it was dark in the elevator areas but overall the layout and ship were just fine. This is an older ship but has been refurbished quite nicely. We had no issues with the ship condition overall.
Activites.......There was always something to do including our favourite.....trivia. We could be as busy as we wanted to be.
Service......I felt that the staff on board were always very happy and did a great job of keeping the ship clean and tidy. Our cabin steward was quick and efficient.
Dining......We had "My Time" dining and never had to wait. We had the same waitstaff every night and the waitor did his best to remember us by name. We always went to the omelette station for breakfast which was fantastic and we also enjoyed the 24 hour deli and ice cream. The pizza was OK but not to our liking. The buffet contained a lot of crappy food so we stuck to the dining room, deli and room service. Room service was usually fast but the orders got screwed up quite a bit.
Gym.......I loved that the gym had life fitness equipment as well as free weights and treadmills. The weird thing about the gym though is that the showers have no area for you to set down your clothes or get ready. There isn't even a plug for a blow dryer. My DH and I always went to the gym in the morning when the girls were still sleeping. It would have been nice to have been able to get "ready" at the gym but this wasn't possible.
Ports of Call.....We stopped in Nassau, Half Moon Cay and Grand Turk. We have been to Nassau numerous times and decided to walk to Junkanoo beach for the day. It was awesome.....we rented 2 chairs and an umbrella for $30 and had free wifi for the day. It didn't hurt that it was 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We have never been to Half Moon Cay and it was incredible. With Faster to the Fun we had priority tenders which was nice because we didn't have to wait. We rented a 4 person paddle boat which was fun. Grand Turk was a great day as well. It was 88 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We hung around the port and spend most of our time at the pool at Margarhitaville. No complaints.
Entertainment......the singers were good. We saw both shows and enjoyed Motor City the most. The comedians on board were OK but the comedic magician was the worst. We had to leave after 10 minutes. The piano player in Cleopatra's (Dave I think) was excellent but we didn't find him until the last night of the cruise.
Summary.....for what we paid this cruise was well worth it. I would definitely sail on Carnival again which totally surprises me. The ship was clean, the food was OK, the staff was excellent and the weather was of course the best. For those of you that would never sail Carnival I say give it a try. At least the Carnival Fantasy.