Arriving at the pier: Not really any different from any other cruise experience. But just as my luck runs on land, I seemed to have gotten into the longest line waiting to check in. But it really went very smoothly. I carried my own luggage onto the ship and, as the cabins were not readied for us yet, we were invited to go up to the Coconut Bar & Grill for some lunch. Being the cruise rebel that I am, I went right past the sign that was posted on the heavy doors which closed off the hallway to the cabins and found mine. As expected, the cabin wasn't ready yet. So I asked a cabin steward if I could just leave my luggage in the room until it was ready. He very politely told me to leave it in the middle of the bed, which I did. So unencumbered I went up to the Coconut Bar & Grill where I found a nice table near the window and proceeded to order myself a bucket-o-beer. I was now officially on vacation and ready to cruise.
Cabins: I had an inside cabin on the Main Deck. The cabin steward had the beds pushed together already. Although I was traveling alone, the setup of the cabin would have allowed for two people to be quite comfortable with plenty of closet and drawer space. The beds were very comfortable and I slept wonderfully every night. Carnival allows smoking in the room, and I did notice a stale smokey smell in the cabin. I asked the Cabin Stewardess if she had something to spray and said she would come in and wipe it down for me. She even asked in the subsequent days if the smokey odor had come back and that she would be happy to wipe it down again. Everytime she saw me she greeted me by name. Her sidekick was just as friendly.
Onboard Activities: A tad lacking. They had Bingo, of course. They also had Trivia, Karaoke at night, a couple of dance lessons, and the requisite Newlywed Game. Carnival allowed smoking in most public venues except for the dining rooms and theater. Since I'm a non smoker, I stayed away from most of the night spots as the smell was pretty strong.
Entertainment: Island Fever, the Calypso duo at the pool area kept the pool deck lively. The Fascination house band (Jud Down & the Palace Orchestra) was excellent! A passenger favorite was a band called "Stagelight" that played in the lounge called Passage to India. The stage shows in general were just okay. And I say that only because a lot of cruises feature the same type of shows and experienced cruisers know what to expect. The resident dancers that performed in the shows, however, were among the best I have ever seen. The energy and talent of those kids was amazing.
Food: Aside from the marinated pork chops I had on the first night, the food wasn't bad - but it was forgettable. The lines always seemed to flow just fine up at the buffet in the Coconut Bar & Grill. And you could always find a clean place to sit and you didn't have to walk far with your tray. The stations were set up so it never seemed like you were eating "cafeteria style". I liked that!
Pool are: Hooray for Carnival. I don't know how they did it, but there was never a time when you couldn't find a deck chair to sit on, no matter what time of day. There was not a lot of "saving deck chairs" on this trip. You didn't need to - there were plenty of them scattered over 3 decks. You could be in the fray or you could find a private cozy spot. The pool was always full of people trying to cool off. There were hot tubs on 3 decks. The yucky thing, however, was that parents allowed children to use the "adult only" hot tubs and often there were so many children in the adult only hot tubs...that there was no room for adults. The ship's staff did nothing to discourage them from using them.
Bars: My kingdom for a good martini! I'm not sure what happened here, but I couldn't get a martini wet with a twist to save my life. So I finally gave up. Of course I found the best bartender the last night of the cruise. At the Stars Casino Bar there's a female bartender who knows her stuff. Forget all the others...go there first.
Shore Excursions: Here's where the good and ugly come in. In Key West I had the brilliant idea of signing up for the "Pub Crawl" $40.00. Without a doubt one of the most fun excursions I've had on a cruise in a long long time. Before we even began we were given T-shirts that said "The liver is evil, it must be punished". Now that's not to say we turned into a rowdy bunch of drunken passengers, we didn't. But let's just say we were a little more talkative on our way BACK to the ship. We got a little historical tour and a little education on the art of the Mixology. The ship's videographer followed us on the tour and filed the entire excursion. And you guessed it, we were on the ship's TV for the next couple of days. On a scale of 1 - 10 this excursion was a 10.
In Cozumel I signed up for the "Sightseeing-Shopping Tour" $55.00 Beware - do NOT take this tour unless you want to spend 3 hours sitting on a bus and stopping at only 3 boring places. After 3 hours we were dropped off at the very end of the shopping area where there were very few shops and only a couple of eating places. We were told to be back at the bus in 55 minutes! That was not enough time to get in some decent shopping or get a good meal. But, there were so many tours to choose from in both Key West and Cozumel so don't be disheartened.
Service: NCL, you better take note here. After my last cruise on NCL having found the service to be pretty lacking, the service on the Fascination was exemplary. In the dining room, I couldn't wait to see our waiter each night. He, too, knew all of our names and greeted us with a big and genuine smile. The bar waiters on the pool (Lido) deck were accommodating without being pushy. The atmosphere on the Fascination always seemed relaxed. Staff served passengers efficiently and smoothly, never rushed or hurried. It seemed like there was an emphasis on staff actually interacting with the passengers.
Debarkation: You start off by standing in line, and you end by standing in line. But have you ever got a off a ship and had the ship's captain shake your hand and thank you for sailing with him? I will always remember Captain Angelo Salvemini's hearty "ciao" as I neared the exit. I thought that was a perfect way to end a pretty darned good cruise vacation aboard the Carnival Fascination.