This cruise there were 2 of us: I am a single female, 36 and my single brother who turned 33 on the day of embarkation. I have been on 6 other cruises and this was a first cruise for my brother.
On Sunday (1/13/07) we flew from DFW to Miami. We arrived in Miami at about 7:30 pm local time and we stayed at the Miami Biscayne Bay hotel (formerly the Radisson and soon to be the Hilton). The hotel was fine for the night - comfy beds, in-room internet access available, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the port. We were tired from traveling, so we just had a burger and fajitas from room service for dinner. At about 11:30 we checked out and requested a taxi, but were directed to "Fascination Transport" located in the hotel that provides transportation to the cruise port. The cost of transportation to the cruise terminal was comparable to a taxi - $10 for the two of us. Since it was a Monday and there were very few cruise passengers, we were the only two in the van. There were 3 ships in port - a Royal Caribbean, the Imagination and us.
Day 1: Miami - We arrived at the cruise terminal at about 11:45. We went through the lines and in a little under twenty minutes we were ready on the ship getting lunch on the lido deck. We were given a piece of paper which instructed that the staterooms would not be available until 1:30 so only to go to the public rooms until later. The fire doors were closed until then, so we were not able to just drop off our carry-on baggage like we usually do. While we ate lunch at the aft of the lido area outside it was pointed out that there was filming occurring on the Imagination in the Serenity adults-only area. We watched as there was footage taken of a woman in a hot tub, a woman relaxing in the sun on a lounger, and other shots. We guessed this was for an upcoming Carnival commercial - I guess we will see! We then explored the ship a little bit and went to our cabin around 1:30 when the fire doors were opened. Cabin M204 was on the Main deck on the port side just behind the last set of elevators. This turned out to be a very good room location with no noise. Our luggage was not there, but we dropped off our carry-on luggage and went back out to explore more and buy a soda card for David. It turns out that now when you buy a soda card and present it to a bar or waiter, you get canned soda emptied into a cup for you. I don't know if they got rid of the fountain beverages or if the Fascination is different that other ships, but I was surprised. I forgot to bring my card for obtaining more charms for my Diamonds International Charm Bracelet, so we made a quick stop at the shopping talk to obtain a card for a new bracelet. For those who don't know, the card can be turned in at Diamonds International for a gold-tone charm bracelet with one charm already on it. The charm that comes with the bracelet is a DI with a free-sized diamond dotting the I. The bracelet comes with a card that shows all cities with a Diamonds International that participate in the charm bracelet giveaway. You can then take the card to the different Diamonds International locations and obtain another free charm to add to your bracelet. If, when you get the free bracelet, you want the charm for the city you are in, you have to pay an additional $5 for this one time only. We went back to the cabin around 3:45 to prepare for the muster drill and found our luggage had arrived. We unpacked and read the Carnival Capers and noticed that we have local TV stations from Denver, CO (2 hours behind local time!) just as it was on previous cruises. At 4:00 we went to the wonderful muster drill. As others have said, all must attend and don't be too early. This was a different kind of muster drill for me. Muster drill was scheduled for 4:15, and sail-away was scheduled for 4:30. We met in the disco and waited for the instructions. After about 20 minutes I realized we were moving - sail-away took place before the instructions for muster drill were finished!!! I was very disappointed to say the least - and I let them know on a comment card. I have been on other Carnival ships as well as Princess cruise ships and feel that the muster drill could be done better, but it is a requirement so let's all just cooperate to get it over with faster! After sail-away there were activities on deck - meeting the social hosts - the main 2 were Andre from Chicago and George (aka Chicken Little) from England, music and dancing. The calypso band, Laws, played for less than an hour today, and in short segments a couple more times during the cruise. They were hard to locate throughout the cruise. We then went to the casino. We were there for only 15 minutes or so when there was an announcement that everyone needed to stop gambling, cash out the slots and leave the casino as we were headed back to Miami. We went to the top of the sun deck to watch us go back to port and talked to an employee putting away deck chairs who said that there was a medical emergency with a crew member. I later heard from someone else that the crew member had appendicitis.
We sailed back within viewing distance of Miami harbor and waited for a Maritime Fire and Rescue Boat to dock alongside us. We were in choppy water so had to follow the boat further into the harbor then they tried docking again. They tied up to the gangway on deck 3 port and carried off the poor crewmember on a gurney. By then, it was time to go to dinner. We had the 8:00 sitting and were the first to arrive at our table. Unfortunately we were seated at a booth, and I am a large woman and felt uncomfortable when I tried out the booth so I went to the maitre'd who moved us to a table. We were seated with 3 couples who were very nice. We were pleased with dinner each night and found the food in the dining room to be good to very good.
After dinner we went back to the casino for a while then caught some of the Welcome Aboard show before turning in for bed.
Day 2: Key West - We could definitely feel the ship shaking when docking in Key West around 6:00. We awoke later and went to breakfast on the lido deck. They had pancakes with banana slices which David said were very good. We disembarked the ship and boarded a Trolley Tour trolley to be taken to Mallory Square. The ship docks inside a military base and you can't wander around unescorted, so the Trolley Tour and Conch Train vehicles were working as transport. Both the Trolley Tour and Conch Train are owned by the same company! We had already decided to take the Trolley Tour of the island because the Trolley Tour allows you to get on and off the Trolleys at any of their 10 stops throughout the day at no additional charge. The Conch Train does the same tour but does not allow you to re-board a Train when you get off. Since the next trolley was not due to leave for 25 minutes, we went shopping at Diamonds International for the free charm (a sailboat), and to browse Del Sol. We heard people complain that "if they had known the free charm bracelet would be so cheap they wouldn't have bothered to go get it!" Get over yourself already, what do you expect for FREE! Our tour ended around 12:45, and since we had to be back onboard the ship by 1:30, we decided to walk around Mallory Square for a few minutes and go back to the ship. Back onboard we ate some lunch at the lido deck while waiting for the ship to sail. A word of advice regarding the lido food - there is plenty of good food but it is very mildly seasoned. If you enjoy your French fries salty, add some salt. We found that if you added salt, pepper, or other condiments to the food it tasted much better! I'm sure it is hard to cook for so many people of different nationalities, so seasoning is sparse! There were people boarding the ship until almost 2:00 and we left around 2:20. I still can not believe how many people wait until the last minute to return to the ship! We watched the ice carving demonstration and the hairy chest competition before going to the complimentary gaming lessons in the casino. I have always wanted to learn more about the table games, and Emma gave us lessons in Roulette, Blackjack, and Craps. The lessons lasted more than an hour total, and when we were finished, we were given a free play $5 card to use on any of the 3 games we learned about. We played in the casino for a little while longer then I left to get ready for the formal dinner. I skipped the Captain's party this cruise. After dinner, I went to the show - Far From Over - where we saw the featured singers Sandy Kight and Dusty Wooldridge and the Fascination Dancers as well as the fabulous breakdancers Dizzy and Fantom. This show was phenomenal! I am definitely an '80s child, so I had a great time remembering the fashions, songs, and dances of the 1980's! I agree with others who have traveled on Fascination recently that Sandy is a great singer and Dusty seems to scream into the microphone. He did have some times that he sang well, but I would advise his stage crew to get the microphone away from his mouth a bit more!
Day 3: Calica - We didn't arrive in Calica until 1:00, so we slept in until 10:00 this morning. We were both tired so we ordered room service for breakfast. I got a BLT, and David got a PBJ. He said that the PBJ was pretty sad, as there was the thinnest layer possible of both peanut butter and jelly! I had previously emailed Carnival Shore Excursions and was told that the Fascination offered an excursion to Xcaret from the ship, but this turned out not to be true. According to the shore excursion staff, Xcaret didn't renew the auto insurance required by Carnival so the excursion hasn't been offered for about 2 months. No matter, we disembarked the ship and purchased tickets to Xcaret on shore. There was only one gangway to disembark in Calica. People were packed in the stairwells and the lines moved pretty slowly. We must have been at the front of the line, as we were off in about 20 minutes. About 10 minutes after getting in line, people started shoving back up the stairs because it was raining and they changed their minds about getting off the ship! When we got off the ship, we walked past the vendors and found someone selling Xcaret tickets. He sold them for the entire amount in case or for a $7 deposit each with the balance being due at the park. This was fine with us, so we purchased the tickets and went to the line for a taxi ticket. We purchased two one-way taxi vouchers for $10 apiece and headed off for Xcaret. Xcaret was beautiful and we enjoyed snorkeling along the underground river, lounging at the lagoon, viewing the Jaguars and Pumas, and looking out at the ocean. It was extremely windy today and the lifeguards were not allowing people to go down to the ocean. David ate at one of the buffets and I ate some fried fish tacos. Well worth spending the day at Xcaret. We went back to the ship around dark. I took a shower and rested for a bit before dinner. After dinner we wandered the ship for a while just taking in the ambiance and enjoying the different decks. We went to the observation deck below the bridge to watch sail-away. At 10:20, we still hadn't sailed, but the gangway was removed and one set of lines had been taken in. David joked that a cab would be pulling up soon with more passengers. I said "no way" but sure enough along came a cab with 4 passengers. People on higher decks were cheering as they ran to the ship. Immediately we left port and were out to sea. We went back to the casino for a while and then off to bed. Day 4: Fun Day at Sea - Woke up a bit later today and again went to the lido deck for breakfast. They were serving French Toast today which was pretty good! We went to the debarkation talk then to the photo gallery and purchased a couple of photos I was really surprised how good some of the pictures turned out this time. There were a wide variety of backgrounds and the photographers sometimes took multiple shots to ensure a good photo. We spent some more time in the Casino, then to the lido deck to watch Fun Ship Survivor which was pretty funny! I went back to the casino to play in the slots tournament (I didn't even place) then wandered around a while looking in the shops, got an airbrush tattoo, and listened to music on the lido deck since I finally found the calypso band again! We went to dinner and said our goodbyes to Head Waiter Benny who was great and our dinner companions. After dinner we went to room and packed up for the end of the cruise. We tried to go to bed a bit earlier tonight since tomorrow will be a long day of traveling! Day 5: Debarkation - We went to breakfast on the lido deck for the last time where they were serving blueberry pancakes, then right off the ship. Debarkation is in a new format now - they give you a number to put on your luggage - on the Fascination, the numbers were 1-25. You would wait in a public area or in your room until your number was called then you could disembark the ship. We were number 18, which was called around 8:00. After leaving the ship you would go to a luggage carousel and claim your bags. The carousels had numbers which corresponded to the number you placed on your luggage previously. After obtaining your luggage you went through customs.
We caught a transport van to the airport for $9 per person and had only one problem clearing security. The TSA agent looked at my brother's driver's license from New Mexico and asked for his passport. He stated that he didn't have one, but did have his birth certificate and the agent left to talk to her supervisor. He proceeded to tell her that New Mexico is a state in the US and does not require a passport. The TSA agent thought my brother was from Mexico, the new part! What a way to end the cruise!!!