My husband and I and three sons (22, 22, 17) joined my parents and my brother and his wife for this cruise August 17-22. We flew into NO on August 16. This was my husband's and my fourth cruise in two years, third on Carnival, first on Fantasy. It was the first for the kids. Overall, everyone had a great vacation and we made many family memories.
New Orleans: There weren't many options for transportation from the airport to hotel. The shuttle was $15 per person; taxi was $14 per person, flat rate, not meter. We took a taxi so we would not be required to stop at every hotel in NO. (FYI - when we disembarked, taxi was quoted as $75 for the five of us from port to airport.)
We stayed at the Springhill Suites at the Convention Center near the port. The hotel was just ok and the neighborhood a bit run down; however the staff was very friendly and helpful. While we could walk to Bourbon Street, the hotel was several blocks away. We ate at Mommas for lunch and went to Bourbon Street during the evening. The kids thought it was fun, but decided each block was generally the same: bar, souvenir shop, sex shop, repeat. Plus there were lots of people that were on the street encouraging you to part with your money, some more aggressively than others. One guy asked us to hold a sign, then asked for a camera, took a photo, then changed his friendly demeanor to his "shakedown" voice and demanded a $5 tip (we gave less). Another guy was giving tickets that included a $10 fine for "not having enough fun." Perhaps this tactic would be creative or entertaining for a buck or two - but $10 is pushing it. It was an interesting place. We did pick up our permissible one bottle of wine each. There were many places open late on a Sunday night to purchase wine, including drug stores. (This was our first time to carry on wine, and for us it didn't seem to be worth the inconvenience. We purchased the wine package for the dining room, and took one bottle of wine from our room on the last night. We were charged a $10 corking fee for this bottle. We ended up giving another bottle away to folks who weren't flying home.)
Embarkation: We took a taxi to the port leaving at around 11:00 AM. Aside from one unexplained bottleneck between the taxi drop off area and the check in area things went fairly smoothly. We were on the ship by noon. We noticed no guests were at the porter's desk when we arrived, and because we needed to set up cash accounts for the sons, we decided to go then. This was a good idea, because later, the line was very long. Our room was ready at one, but our luggage did not arrive until around 4.
Entertainment/Activities: We went to all the shows and enjoyed them. My husband thought the comedian/ventriloquist was only fair, but I liked him. The next night's R&B singer was quite good. We did not make it to any of the late night "adult oriented" comedy shows as we are no longer able to party all night like we did a few years ago. The passenger talent show ranged from merely average to near professionally talented. We spent time in karaoke. We also attended the art auctions and some bingo. The art auction personnel were terrific. The captain's and past guest parties were also enjoyable. My sons liked the water slide. Even "grandpa" enjoyed it and said he never would have tried it if the grandkids weren't with him.
Dining: I gave my sons three rules: 1) dine with the family at 6:00 seating; 2) stay with us in Mexico; and 3) be available for photos. We ate every dinner in the dining room. It was a great time to catch up with the rest of the family, as we often did our own things during the day. Our servers were wonderful. One son (6'3" with an endless appetite) asked about the serving size for the ribs on night one. The server told him it was a full slab. My son replied that would be fine, but was brought an extra serving anyway! We had a lot of fun with our servers. We sometimes ran into them on the ship doing other things during the day and they always seemed pleased when we said hello. On the last night, all of us at the table kicked in money for an extra tip for both the waiter and the assistant waiter. We gave it to them as a "joint" tip and all of us thanked them again. They seemed so appreciative. That extra tip must mean a lot to them. I plan to always be that generous on future trips.
It was no problem for all sons to be available for dinner. They really enjoyed all the choices and the food. We also ate twice in the dining room for lunch. Generally, it seemed the choices were not that great for lunch. My husband and I ate breakfast every day in the dining room too. Although the menu was limited, we prefer breakfast in the dining room.
Lido deck food was ok. I know a lot of people say the pizza is great, but we thought it was average at best. My sons complained that there were not many choices other than pizza after 11 PM. (Yes, even at home they are grilling steaks or pork chops after mid-night, every night. The metabolism of young men is unbelievable.) They ordered room service every night between 1-2 AM and said everything they ordered was good to include a turkey sandwich with chips, vegetables and blue cheese dressing and P&B sandwiches. They tipped $4 for each delivery.
Accommodations: We were in R141 and our sons were in R137. We worked with a Carnival Cruise rep to ensure rooms were next to each other. He was very responsive and easy to work with, but I was surprised he never mentioned a floor to ceiling support pole in the middle of our room (R141) in front of the vanity. It did not obstruct the drawers of the vanity, but you had to work around it. Because of the location of the pole, the bed was basically on the side of the wall toward the middle of the floor wedged between the wall and the pole. There were two closets next to the bed and a third closet next to the bathroom. It really seemed like an awkward arrangement. Only one pillow had wall support and a light as one side of the bed was in the middle of the room. It wasn't a big deal but given the choice, I would have picked a "normal" arrangement. My husband is 6'2" and 240lbs and was able to maneuver around the bed and the pole, however, anyone much larger than he is would have trouble. The three guys all had single beds arranged in a U shape. It seemed to work out ok for them. Our steward was friendly and kept the rooms cleaned. Even the guys enjoyed the towel animals - although one son claimed he met someone whose steward provided better towel animals. They had a bat towel hanging from the ceiling!
There was no hairdryer and no fridge. The safe used a programmable code rather than the S&S card or other card. Shower had a shampoo and soft soap dispenser. Bed was comfortable, temperature of room fine. Having an inside cabin, it was my routine to turn on the TV to the LIDO deck camera to check the weather out first thing in the morning. We don't mind having an inside cabin as the sensation of movement is reduced. Also, aside from checking the weather, there really isn't much to look at once the ship is at sea.
Port - Progresso: I didn't plan excursions because I wasn't sure all five of us would be up and ready to be out at the same time. This was a good call, as the late nights meant some sleeping in for our sons. I had placed the cell phones in the safe on the ship, but the guys wanted to make some calls. We took the free shuttle from the port to the shopping market. There was an information building as you entered. The woman behind the counter sold us a phone card for $10 for 50 minutes, and then proceeded to take turns dialing numbers from her business phone for each son. She even left the room, and they had privacy to speak. We took the double decker bus for $2 each. The bus driver kept stopping to talk to people he knew along the way. He would announce "I have to talk to this guy", stop the bus, and exit. At one point he was in a bar for a while and one of the bar waiters came out to sell everyone beer. The driver did not talk about the trip or the city; he just drove the bus around. As the bus went around each block, most of the local citizens waved to the bus riders, even people just doing their jobs or going about their business. I'm not sure if I would recommend the bus ride or not, but it was kind of funny. We got a really great impression of how friendly everyone there was. When we returned to the market, our sons bargained for some souvenirs. They didn't pay the initial asking price, but I'm not sure all got the best deals. They weren't spending a lot of money, it was fun, and another experience for them. Many passengers commented that while there weren't as many selections, souvenirs were better priced at Progresso than Cozumel.
The Ecstasy was at the port during the same time as the Fantasy, same itinerary but the Ecstasy left for Cozumel two hours prior to the Fantasy. When we returned to the ship in Progresso, the staff was talking about two women who were permitted to ride the Fantasy to Cozumel to catch up with their cruise when they missed their departure on the Ecstasy. Soon, everyone was talking about someone they knew who had missed a ship. If this story is accurate, these women were very lucky.
Port - Cozumel: We got off the ship late again, but caught up with family and new friends at Carlos and Charlie's. Everyone was wearing balloon hats when we arrived. While the waiters were up to their usual shenanigans, there weren't many customers. We decided to walk further to an outdoor bar/restaurant someone had been to earlier. A bucket of six beers was $5.50. Food and drinks for nine totaled less than $40. It was good weather and good company. The waiter from the restaurant sent us to his "friend's shop" and we got what seemed to be good deals on tanzanite jewelry.
Debarkation - We did self-assist. People were piled up all over the place. It was difficult lugging suitcases and stuff through the ship. The process really seemed to take longer than any other time. Misc. - I took way too much "stuff" based on all the reading I was doing before hand. We had four walkie talkies that didn't leave the suitcase - although we all agreed they may have come in handy at the ports. We didn't use the highlighters, post-its, baggies, etc. I did take laundry detergent in a bag and dryer sheets. I did not intend to do laundry, but thought someone might mention needing it. As it turned out, I did need to wash clothes. There is no change machine in the laundry rooms, so bring quarters; $3 for wash & $3 to dry. The dryer needed to run twice to dry clothes. One laundry room was in full use and the other was completely empty, so if you need one, check both.
The one tip I used that worked well was with managing our cash. I prepared envelopes for events/expenses we needed to spend cash on: taxi to/from airport, taxi to port, S&S accounts for sons, extra tips for ship employees, $ meals in NO, $ each port, and 50 $1 for porter tips, room service tips, etc.
There was one passenger who really stood out, and we never met him or his parents, although his name was Mathew. He couldn't have been more than about 3 or 4. Their room was across from ours and we heard Mathew screaming and throwing tantrums every day. The first night he was hungry before it was time to eat; another time he wanted to play video games. Once he was screaming his pants were wet (we found this one particularly funny). The best or worst was when he was screaming at someone blocking his way with their wheel chair. His parents either chose to maintain their "composure" or they were "oblivious" the whole time. They basically kept trying to explain things to him throughout his screaming. We were all telling "Mathew stories" at dinner. I can't imagine his parents had a very good time, but it gave us something to talk about!
Overall - We really enjoyed meeting people from all over the country (although there seemed to be a lot of Texans)! My sons said they were never bored - which is a huge success. We actually spent more time with them on the cruise than it seemed we had at beach house vacations. I don't think you can have a bad cruise. It's also a great extended family vacation because there's enough to do together, but also enough to do (along with enough variety) separately.