We took a 5-night cruise on the Carnival Fascination in October 2008. Our ports of call were Half Moon Cay and Nassau.
HOTEL - We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express (904-696-3333) about 1 mile from the port. It was a nice hotel and very easy to find. The hotel does not offer parking for cruisers so you will need to park at the port.
PARKING - There is ample parking at the port and the cost is $15 per day (for a 5-night cruise we paid $75). The parking lot was nice and there seemed to be sufficient security present.
ARRIVAL - We pulled up to the terminal and a porter immediately came out and offered to help. We gave him all of our bags and tipped him $5 for his efforts. Don't let the porters help you if you're not going to tip them because they rely on those tips for their income.
EMBARKATION - We entered the terminal and got our 'Sail and Sign' cards (SASC) with no problem. I strongly recommend bringing the same credit card you used to pay for the cruise, because the woman who helped us made it seem like it was important. Your SASC will be linked to your credit card and any items or services you charge to your SASC will ultimately get charged to your credit card.
We arrived at the terminal at 10:30 am and were aboard the ship by noon. We won't arrive at the terminal so early next time because we had to wait 90 minutes to board. I'd recommend arriving at the terminal after boarding has begun in order to shorten the wait. Arriving early doesn't offer much benefit that I can see since you can't get to your cabin until about 1:30 pm anyway.
Since we couldn't get to our cabin until 1:30 pm we went up to the Lido deck and had lunch from the buffet and got the children signed up for Camp Carnival. Limit the amount of luggage you carry on because you have to drag it around until you can enter your cabin. All you really need to carry on is a change of clothes and personal hygiene items for each member of your party in case your luggage gets misplaced. But that shouldn't happen since you tipped the porter a few hours earlier!
CABIN - We had an oceanview (OV) cabin on the Riviera (bottom) deck of the ship. It was nice and quiet and the steward kept it clean for us. I would recommend getting an OV cabin if you have children because they like looking out at the land and other ships. The shower had dispensers for shampoo and soap, and the steward brought us bars of soap for the sink. The shower dispenser works best if you push the buttons rapidly. The children really enjoyed the towel animals the steward made each night.
DRINKS - The wait staff was really aggressive about offering people alcoholic drinks, especially on the Lido deck on the departure day as people were arriving. Just remember that those drinks are not free.
SODA CARDS - These allow the holder to drink unlimited amounts of soda for a fixed fee (about $5 per person per day). These are a waste of money because at every meal there was water, tea, and lemonade available at no charge. At breakfast there was several juices available at no charge.
CAMP CARNIVAL - This was a great service that allowed parents to drop their children off and spend some time alone or at shows. Each night we dropped the kids off at 7:00 pm and got them at 10:00 pm. There was no charge for this service. Camp Carnival will watch your children until 3:00 am if you want, but after 10:00 pm an hourly fee is charged. There were also additional hours available in the afternoons at no charge. Camp Carnival divides the children into age groups to ensure your children are interacting with children their own age.
DINING ROOM - We had dinner in the dining room three of the five nights we were onboard. If you have children I recommend you choose the early seating (6:00 pm) because you can drop them off at Camp Carnival after dinner and go see the shows at the Palace Theater (which usually start at 8:30 pm).
We had the same table and servers each night in the dining room. Most of the food was good, but I don't recommend the prime rib or the seafood penne pasta (I cannot remember the actual name) because they had little flavor. Most of the desserts were good, especially the Warm Melting Chocolate Cake and Cherries Jubilee. I never tried the Baked Alaska but others cruisers said it wasn't very good. I wouldn't recommend the Amaretto Chocolate Cake because it was cold and too firm.
COCONUT GROVE BAR AND GRILL (CGBG) - This was a more relaxed atmosphere where you got your own food from buffet lines and found your own place to sit. It was open everyday for all three meals, and the lines were never long. This is a better choice if you have children because the atmosphere is less structured. If your children start to misbehave it's not as noticeable as in the dining room because the CGBG is noisier and more active. The salad bar was very nice and the food was high quality. We had breakfast here most mornings because the food selection was better than the dining room.
The soft serve ice cream machines, pizza counter, and deli counter were always open in the CGBG.
Please follow the rules and wear appropriate clothing in the CGBG. Bare chests and swimsuits are not allowed. I really don't enjoy seeing a 250-pound woman in a bikini walk by when I'm putting food in my mouth.
PHOTOS - Carnival has a really good process for photos. Their photographers take a lot of photos but you can always tell them you don't want your photo taken. If they do take your photo, you can go to the Empress deck the following day and find it on the wall (along with thousands of other photos). If you like the photo, you can walk over to the cashier and buy a package. If you don't like the photo, you just take it off the wall and drop it into a box on the floor.
If you want a package, you have to pay $20 for an 8" X 10" photo and can then pay additional amounts for additional products. We got the 8" X 10" photo, 30 Christmas post cards, and a CD for $50. You can't buy a package or CD without first paying $20 for the 8" X 10" photo. Your pictures are ready to be picked up the following day.
On most nights you could go to the Empress deck and choose one of the backgrounds that were set up and immediately have your picture taken. The whole process really impressed me. There is also a beautiful staircase that you can have your picture taken on. If you're dressed up for Elegant Night you might as well go have your photo taken. It'll save you from having to drive to a studio when you return home if you were already planning on getting photos taken in the near future.
HALF MOON KEY - This was an awesome port that was perfect for children. The beach is beautiful and the swimming is great. There are floating objects that are attached to the ocean floor with cables that you can swim out to and play on (e.g., there was an alligator, shark, raft, trampoline inner tube, and other objects that people were playing on). There were also several hundred lounge chairs available at no charge.
There were also many excursions available but we didn't take any of them. If you're interested you can read about them on Carnival's web site. Carnival provides lunch on shore in the form of a giant cookout so there's no need to pack food or go back to the ship for lunch.
This is a tender port but there was no problem getting to shore or back to the ship. I think there were four tenders taking cruisers to and from the island, and there never seemed to be much of a wait.
NASSAU - Other cruisers have written a lot about Nassau so I won't.
DEBARKATION - We set our luggage outside our cabin the night before we arrived and retrieved it from the terminal after leaving the ship. We arrived in Jacksonville at 8:00 am and were off the ship by 9:30 am. This is especially impressive because we were the last group called for debarkation. You can do a self-debarkation and be one of the first people to leave the ship, but we didn't choose that option. If you self-debark you have to carry off all of your luggage without any help.
Be sure a member of your party attends the debarkation talk in the Palace Theater the day before arriving back in Jacksonville. The 30-minute talk isn't mandatory but is very informative.
I strongly recommend this cruise. It's a good cruise for children and, if you live in Georgia or further north, Jacksonville is 160 miles closer than Port Canaveral.