This was my first cruise ever (I am in my fifties). My good friend who is in her thirties asked me to go for a girls only cruise to get away from the daily grind (she has four kids and a husband that is away most of the time). I did my research, mostly on Cruise Critic, and did not really have any surprises.
New Orleans - stayed in the Harrah's Hotel where we had a complimentary room. Ate at the Asian Restaurant in Harrahs and had excellent sushi. Both of us have been in NOLA many, many times, so we didn't feel the need to venture our too far. For those seeing NOLA for the first time, there are many wonderful places to explore and the best food on the planet. Fulton Street by the hotel was decked out for Christmas with Christmas music and even fake snow. We sat outside briefly enjoying Christmas in New Orleans,and a few beers before heading for bed.
Embarkation - Easier than I ever imagined. After ordering a room service breakfast and gathering our things, we headed downstairs about 0945. By the time we got our car and loaded our suitcases, we were on our way by 1015. - The Erato street pier is about a mile from Harrahs, so it only took 5 minutes or so to get there. We missed the entrance to the parking garage and pulled into a drop off area. We let a porter go ahead and take our checked luggage. Tipped him a dollar a bag. We went back and headed into the parking garage. It was $56 for 4 days and you must pay before you go in. There is an attendant standing by to help. My friend used her credit card. We were directed to the 4th floor where we parked, made note of where we were parked in the cell phone, and took the elevator down to registration. I kid you not, we walked directly up to the desk and checked in, got our sail and sign card and had our first picture made in less than 10 minutes. We found a place to sit. The wait was about an hour or an hour and one half, since they are also debarking all the passengers from the previous cruise. Getting on the ship was also easy even though it involved standing in line a few minutes. Have your passport, sail and sign card, photo id at your fingertips. The only negative thing I have to say is when you get on the ship there is no one there to direct you or tell you anything - no map of the ship - nothing. Since both of us were newbies, we felt a little lost. Fortunately, I had spent a lot of time on CC and knew to go to the Lido deck. At about 1:45 we went down and found our stateroom, which was ready, but alas no luggage. Went and explored the ship, took a tour of Spa Carnival, etc.
Sail-a-way - "Oh the weather outside was frightful", but the drinks were so delightful. The sail-a-way was moved indoors due to drizzling rain, wind and cold. My friend and I braved the weather and stayed on Lido. We ate a hamburger and had some drinks. The DODs are really sweet and fruity but I can say they don't skimp on the alcohol. Anyway, we left at about 5pm and it was still light enough to enjoy the Mississippi River. I walked up on one of the upper decks and just took it all in. My friend was afraid of getting sick, so she stayed on Lido with her back to the windows LOL.
Stateroom - our luggage arrived about 5:30 and I was much relieved. We had a cabin with a window which was nice. As a newbie, I was not really prepared for the smallness of the stateroom. They had our beds pushed together and we just left it that way. I think though in hindsight you would have more room with them pushed apart. There are two pull down beds in the cabin and one is directly over the main bed. We both must have hit our heads 3 or 4 times each. We got a good chuckle out of it. There seemed to be a surprising amount of storage space, closets, drawers, etc. and a small dressing table and stool with one plug. On the advice of CC members I brought a travel strip for extra plugs, but it kept tripping the plug when we tried to use the hairdryer and curling iron. We finally gave up and just used the plug directly. No biggie. Most of the things people say to bring, I don't feel are necessary and just take up valuable space. The room was clean and our cabin steward Sofyan and his assistant kept it very clean. I know the bathroom got cleaned 2-3 times a day. We only had two towel animals during the trip, but at our ages, we weren't too upset. They kept fresh ice and towels the entire trip. No complaints here.
The bed - the bed was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on. My friend and I both noticed that we went to sleep the minute our heads hit the pillow and stayed asleep all night. I didn't even dream. Guess it was the combination of the bed and the movement of the ship, but that was the best sleep I have ever experienced.
The ship in general - The Fantasy is showing her age, but I found it to be clean and neat. Christmas decorations were up in the atrium and looked very attractive. There was always someone cleaning something during the entire trip. When certain areas were very crowded for long periods of time, some of the restrooms became untidy, but that was not the norm. I guess I must address what we started calling the "Fantasy Funk." We did notice the famous smell everyone discusses endlessly on CC, but it was just a smell you noticed and then it went away. The smell is most noticeable by the elevators and around the cabin areas. However, we never smelled it in our room. My friend's husband is an engineer with an oil drilling company and has spent long periods of time on ships. She says it has to do with the sewage disposal systems on ships and there is not much that can be done about it. I am very sensitive to smells and it in no way detracted from my cruise. I was in the Windows on the Sea dining room numerous times and have no idea what smell the previous reviewer was talking about (same cruise).
Dining - We were in the Celebration dining room and it was very nice. Luis and Gusti were very attentive and accommodating. The food was very good although a little bland for me, however, since they are cooking for over 1,400 people, I thought they did an excellent job. Luis and Gusti kept water in our glasses, bread on our bread plates, and food came in record time, but we never felt rushed. You can pretty much get as much food as you want. If I didn't finish a dish Luis would ask if he could bring me something else. The warm chocolate melting cake that I read so much about IS AWESOME. No it is not really cake, but OMG, it is wonderful. My friend, who doesn't even like sweets said there was something wrong with you if you don't think chocolate melting cake is good.
Entertainment - we only saw one show and it was very entertaining. My traveling companion seemed to start feeling seasick every day about dark and felt better when outside. Needless to say we spent an inordinate amount of time on the Lido deck. Many of the shows & parties were either during our dinner (late seating), or very late. We turned in around 11:00 most every night. Anyway, we just wanted to relax and forget our responsibilities at home. Mission accomplished.
Cozumel - Beautiful place, gorgeous water. We just got off the ship at our leisure and shopped at the pier and took a taxi into town. The taxi was $7.00 for the two of us and he charged the other two ladies $7.00. Big Tex had said the taxi ride was $6.00 per taxi up to four people. It wasn't enough to quibble about. The shopping area around the pier is nice and very touristy, but we had fun. We shopped a little in town, then had lunch at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. It was nice. Back on the ship by 3pm. Sailed exactly at 5pm. Have a 5 day booked for May with my son and his wife and my husband and we are planning on the Isla Passion by twister excursion.
Debarkation - a bit chaotic. There were no Carnival employees to direct people. They gave plenty of information over the announcement system, but obviously no one knows how to follow directions. They asked people not to wait on stairways, hallways, etc. and were completely ignored. We chose self-assist. I will say as disorganized as it seemed, we were in our car and headed back home by 0937.
Overall - good value for the money. If you pay $319 for a 4 day cruise and are expecting a $5000 cruise and a ship that is like the Ritz-Carlton, you will be disappointed. My take is - I paid $319, was waited on for four days, had all the food and drink I wanted, went to Mexico, and had a great bed to boot. I'm happy. Can't wait to set sail again in May.