My boyfriend & I took a 5 day cruise on the Fantasy to Calica & Cozumel, Mexico. We drove over 4 hours to the port a day early so we wouldn't have to wake up at the crack of dawn to hit the road. I booked a hotel room on priceline.com for $50 at the Residence Inn by Marriott. It was right off the interstate and close to numerous restaurants. Although we didn't need it, the room had a kitchen with a full refrigerator and microwave. The hotel was about 8 miles to the ship terminal.
Embarkation: Parking at the terminal is $15 per day. It took a while to get on. There was a lot of people and long lines, but that was no surprise. Once we made it to a rep, we were there for about 10 minutes. It was my bf's first time on Carnival, and they had to get some information from him and we had to set up our sail & sign accounts. It was about 1:20 pm when we made it on the ship, so we went to our room to drop off our carry on luggage and then go to lunch. Since we were early, we had to wait until 1:30 in the stair/ elevator area for them to open the halls that led to our rooms.
The room: It was comfortable. We had an interior with 2 twins beds that were converted to a king. There was plenty of closet space for us both, but there really wasn't a good place to put our luggage. There was a step up to get into the bathroom. Our cabin steward never gave us the chance to get the room dirty and was very attentive to our needs. The tv showed local news from Denver.
The ship: You can tell it's 20 years old. Some of the decor is a bit outdated. When we first got on, there was a slight musty smell on our floor in the elevator hallway but soon went away. The gym had great equipment and the locker room was well maintained. I loved the miniature golf area and especially the water slides. The layout of the ship was a bit complicated, but was similar to Carnival's other ships so if you're a repeat guest, you'll figure it out pretty fast.
Food: The food was exactly what I expected- amazing! There was no shortage of options. The Mongolian stir fry station by the pool was the best. There was also southern food, burgers, chicken fingers and fries for the kids, and a little bit of everything else at the other 2 buffets. You could also choose to be served in one of the dining rooms. Breakfast was the same with many choices at the buffet or the dining room. At dinner, we were at the late seating in the Celebration dining room and seated with 4 other 20-something aged couples. The food was great! Be sure to try the warm chocolate melting cake! The funship special was my alcoholic beverage of choice. I've had it on 3 different ships, so it's clearly their specialty.
Entertainment: Risa, the cruise director, was always pleasant and entertaining. The show featuring the singers and dancers on the first night was the practically the same show I saw on the Freedom in September, which was disappointing. I can say without a doubt the entertainment by our dinner servers (dance on 2 nights, once to hip hop and then to Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire) was exactly the same I saw on the Freedom. It would be nice if the different ships did different forms of entertainment. I felt like I had seen it all before. Karaoke was a blast! I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but no one seemed to care; most of them sounded just as bad as me. The additional entertainment that wasn't expected was the two break dancers. Not only did they participate in the opening night show, but they also entertained us by the 21st Century Bar where all the music acts were playing. The adult comedian was also pretty funny.
I was hoping to party hard at the disco, but this didn't happen. First, there was a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of older people on this sailing. We did meet many people our age, but they all seemed to turn in early. We had some fun and danced the first 2 nights, but after that, it was dead. We went in one night and there was maybe 15 people who were just talking and drinking. Karaoke ended at 12:30 am, and since the disco was dead and we don't gamble, there was nothing left to do but return to our room and order late night room service (which was delivered very fast).
Days at sea: Our first say at sea was perfect with warm weather and sunshine. I didn't make it to the deck until around 1 pm (after a morning work out and lunch) and was pleasantly surprised to find an abundance of deck chairs available. I was certain they would all fill up early. Our last day at sea was unfortunately not warm or sunny at all. I didn't realize this and was unpleasantly surprised when we were on our way to the pool and stepped outside to some cold air. There was literally not one person out there, which made lunch difficult. There was long lines at all the buffets and nowhere to sit. We were about take our food back to the room until a table opened up by the door.
Calica: I was disappointed to be greeted here with rain. We were planning to visit Xcaret, but didn't want to spent $69 each to go to a water park that we wouldn't get to enjoy because of the bad weather. Note: the person in front of me at the shore excursion desk canceled their plans and got their money refunded because of the rain. We decided to take a taxi into Playa Del Carmen (about 15 minutes) for $26 round trip. They gave us a voucher to redeem on the way back and taxis are everywhere in the tourist areas. If you decide to do anything at all here, you will need transportation. It was about a 3-5 minute ride just to exit the port area, and once you do exit, there's nothing around in walking distance. Nothing is at the port with the exception of a few souvenir vendors.
The rain was a light drizzle by the time we made it to the heart of Playa Del Carmen and had completely stopped around 11. Many of the gift shops were offering free tequila samples, and boy did we sample them! Despite the earlier rain, it was a busy and crowded day here. Most of the gift shops all have the same stuff, but there's other clothing and accessory stores, numerous restaurants, camera shops, even tattoo shops. The sun came out a little and we managed to get some beach time. I saw a boat bring in some divers and asked the guy working it how much for snorkeling, and he said $35 for an hour and a half. That's way cheaper than the snorkeling excursions offered by Carnival. We declined out of fear the bad weather would return, but that was good too know for next time.
Cozumel: There was 3 or 4 other ships in port, so it was pretty busy everywhere. We took a taxi to Chankanaab Park for $10 each way. The plan was to swim with the manatees and do some snorkeling at Dolphin Discovery. On the way to get a taxi, a guy asks us where we're headed and said he could book that for us. I did my research online before leaving home and knew it was $39, which included park admission. This guy took a $16 deposit, made a phone call, and gave us a receipt with a confirmation number. When we got to the park, we showed the lady at the ticket booth our receipt and she said we still had to each pay $19 to get in because Dolphin Discovery was a separate attraction from the park. We broke down and paid that too. I later found out the $19 was supposed to include a free beer and t-shirt, and we got neither. Then we went to the Dolphin Discovery info desk and another guy said the price does include park admission, but only if you book online. By now, we are very frustrated. He was not helpful at all, basically saying we should not have booked through the guy at the port area because they make commissions. How were we to know that? My boyfriend forced him to get a supervisor, who was much more pleasant. He was not able to give us any refund, but did allow us to also be a part of the sea lion encounter. The lesson to be learned here is to book directly through the DD website or through the park itself.
The sea lion show was fun, but couldn't compare to the manatees. It was just the two of us and our trainer, and we had an hour to spend in the water with them. They're like dogs- very playful and friendly! We got to feed, hug, kiss, pet, swim and play with them. There was a videographer there filming us the entire time. They presented us with an 8 minute video for $40 that had great editing, which we didn't buy, but did buy a few pictures for $10 each.
Back to Chankanaab Park-it's a great, inexpensive place to spend the day. There are lots of beach chairs with umbrellas. Lockers are included in the park admission price. There is a full service restaurant and bar and a snack stand. Snorkeling & diving equipment and life vests are available for rent. The guy at the life vest stand offered to swim with me and show me the best places for spotting fish. There is also a free show that gives you a taste of Mexican culture. Unfortunately we missed this trying to get our situation handled.
Other: The past guests' reception was loaded with free drinks and appetizers and they got the audience involved on stage, which was nice. I collect lapel pins from my travels and was disappointed to find out that the lapel pin with ship's name they used to give to all past guests is only given now to platinum members.
The shopping was ok. A lot of stuff was on sale the last day. The duty free was great. I bought 2 large bottles of Bailey's Irish Creme for $34.
The ride while at sea was choppy a lot! We could feel the ship lean from one side then to the other and sometimes it was even impossible to walk in a straight line. Everyone on board noticed it. This was my third cruise and I had never felt a ride this rough. Because the ride was choppy the whole week when there appeared to be calm waters, it's hard to say if the rough ride was due to weather or the ship itself.
Debarkation: We chose to self assist off the ship, which is the best way to go if you don't have a lot of bags or are not traveling with kids. Breakfast was available in the dining room and buffet. We made our way off the ship around 8:30 am, only to wait in a very long customs line for an hour. They had a separate line for people who have passports that went faster, but because my boyfriend had his birth certificate, we couldn't go through that one.
Overall, I had a great time and can't wait to cruise Carnival again.