This review not only reviews the Fantasy but also Carnival as a whole. You see, we just got back from our extended cruise due to Hurricane Frances. Let me also state that after seeing the devastation along the entire east coast of Florida, they not only need our help but prayers. What devastation!
Knowing that Frances was on its way we were given several options. The Bahamas had been cancelled, due to Frances arrival the very day we were scheduled to be there. So it had been change to a 3 Day Cruise to Nowhere. Carnival gave us several options.
1. We could cancel our trip and get a full refund. 2. We could cancel and rebook another 3 day for the same price. 3. Take the cruise and receive $100 per person shipboard credit, and receive an additional 50% off another 3 to 5 day cruise that actually went somewhere to be taken before the end of 2005.
While we were disappointed about not making any stops, it has been far too long since we've been on a cruise, and we were not going to miss some quality time together without our children. So off we went to drop off the kids at Grandma and Grandpa's and headed down to Port Canaveral.
We liked Port Canaveral because it's a shorter drive than to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. We also have the Glory booked in February out of the same port. We left the morning of the cruise wondering just how crazy we really are since Frances was bearing down hot and heavy. As it turned out everyone was heading north away from the Hurricane, so south bound traffic was a breeze.
We arrive in Port Canaveral at 11:30am with very few people around. It was kind of spooky and we really started to wonder if this was a good idea. I had read that there was a parking garage there which I planned on leaving the car for the trip, thinking it would be safer there than out in the open. Not the case for the Fantasy, unless you want to hike around the bay. The car is paid for, I have insurance, so we parked between a couple of cars to help protect as best we could and headed for the ship.
The regular staff to check you in was home boarding up their homes getting ready for the impending storm. We found the crew of the ship checking us in, mostly the Dancers who where being guided by a few people who actually knew what they were doing. I found it odd, but thought they did a great job. It was then that we were informed that there was the possibility that we would not be returning until after the storm, and this could extend our cruise by a few days. We still had the option to back out at that point if we needed to be back for any reason. BACK OUT OF AN EXTENTED CRUISE? Are you nuts?!
We got our cabin keys, Sail and Sign, and headed toward the security gate to have our picture taken and the Welcome Aboard picture. We dropped our carry on bags in the room and headed for the lido deck for lunch. I had a burger, pizza, and ice cream before 12:15pm. To say the least the entire process was a breeze.
I have to say that my rating on the dining will not be fare. I developed a cold a few days into the cruise and because of the cold the food was rather bland. Even the Coke I brought was bland. I knew what to expect, since this was our 6th cruise with Carnival. I have my favorites like the sausage links and the Prime Rib. I was devastated to find out that the signature butter patties I had grown accustomed to "President a" butter patties were gone! I LOVED THOSE BUTTER PATTIES! It has been replaced with another salted butter patty that was almost as good as I remember.
Now the Pizza on the other hand was more like our first cruise. I have to wonder if it's the class of ship because the Imagination is the same class. Light, airy, and very, very tasty. I wondered about this since the Pizza quality had changed from class to class. I think I might have this one pegged to the class of ship rather than ship to ship. I guess I'll have to take some more cruises to test my theory.
This was the first cruise we were seated at a large table. We have been seated just the two of us, and with one other couple a few times. But this trip we had a table for 10, however only 6 were seated for the trip. Others I gather opted to cancel. We really took a liking to Allan and Patty (more on them later) and Steve and Claudia warmed up after the first night. Winston and Carlos waited on us and both were on top of their game for the length of the cruise. Winston was only told once things like I like Thousand Island dressing, and I like my meat Medium Rare. I'm always amazed how they do that!
We also found that we had the Captains Dinner twice. You need to remember that the Fantasy does a 3 day and a 4 day cruise. When it was all said and done, we spent 5 days at sea. So they took what I thought was the best dinner and offered it again the last night of the cruise. My wife loved it, because she got both lobster the first time and Prime Rib the second. I loved it because I got Prime Rib both times!
The Fantasy was given a face lift some time last year and there were noticeable improvements made. The ship is 14 years old and is did show some signs of age like some scraps and scratches in the elevators for example. The back pool was also a bit warn and in need of some attention. Small stuff that you noticed but the ship on a whole is beautiful. Promenade deck is incredible. Really elegant and very tasteful decorated. Being on the ship for as long as we were, we got a good look at all the rooms. We spent time in Cleopatra's, the piano bar every night before dinner. We also liked the Grand Spectrum in the center of the ship with the elevators. I like such a large open space, which you don't really get even on the larger ships.
They also expanded the children area at the expense of The Forum lounge in the back of the ship. While they did decrease the size of the lounge, all they really had there each night was karaoke. The band was moved up to Cats Lounge. While we didn't take the kids on this trip we took a good look at the children's area, since we plan on taking them with the 50% off cruise deal we will most certainly take advantage of. We found lots of families on this cruise. We found out most of them were escaping the Hurricane. They boarded up their houses and hoped on board to ride out the storm in style. So for those of you in harms way of any Hurricanes in the future, this may be an option!
This was another trick Carnival had to pull out of its hat. Of course there were the usual Las Vegas style shows which were exceptional as usual. (I really liked the second show which was well choreographed and great selection of music.) We missed one of comedian's second shows; he filled in as entertainment for another night. We heard that he came up with some new jokes that day and read off a piece of paper. That to me was rather weak and am glad I missed that one. They did have a Hurricane Frances Party one night out on the lido deck which was a lot of fun. This is a floating resort, and there is always something to do even at sea for 5 days.
While my wife and I enjoyed some time to relax, we were never at a loss for finding something to do, even for a five day cruise at sea. Being at sea for so long gave us a chance to check out some of the things we never do because there just isn't enough time when you are in port. My wife really loved tea time and I enjoyed the piano bar, which I have never done before.
There are the usual disco and live band in two of the lounges, the casino which I made a donation to, karaoke, and game shows with some of the guests like The Newlywed Game, Match Game, and Survivor. There is always a lot to do with Carnival, even at sea for 5 days straight. They were very creative and well planned.
What do you think the odds are in having the same Room Stewart for two cruises in a row? I couldn't tell you either, but that's what happened to us. Going to our room when we boarded to drop off our bags we passed Joseph from Haiti in the hallway. Both my wife and I recognized him right away and stopped him to say "Hello" and wondered if he remembered us. We told him about the Legend a year and a half ago and he remembered us! We were a little apprehensive about finding out he was our Room Stewart again, because he was not that good on the Legend, but I have to say a year and a half later, he had his job down packed! What a difference, and he was the best we ever had.
We booked and inside cabin, simply because it was a three day and we just wanted to cruise again before February. We found that we had been upgraded to an outside cabin with two portholes in the front of the ship, U7. (Upper Deck) Both my wife and I really liked this room. Room was the usual size, but there was a large bay area where the port holes where. My wife found some extra comforters in the room and used the comforter for padding to use to sit up in the bay and watch the world go by through the port holes. I thought this room had better character than a regular outside cabin. One other bonus was that Joseph set up our beds as a king size by putting the two twins together. However, this was the first time he used king size sheets. Other times, they would put the beds together, but still use twin size sheets. We also found the bed far more comfortable than usual. The solid white soft comforter on the bed was an added bonus. I'm glad they did away with the bright and complex comforters of years past.
There were two problems with the cabin that we found or just forgot about. One, there is only one electrical outlet, which makes it difficult to charge camcorders, phones, laptops, and use a hair dryer and curling iron at the same time. There was also no lighting at the desk area. My wife had problems with makeup sitting at the desk, and had to stand in the bathroom for the proper lighting.
I was happy with the shampoo and body gel supplied in the shower, my wife however, needs her own shampoo and conditioner. The welcome package also supplied toothpaste, a couple razors, soap, and one dosage supply of aspirin.
This class of ship also has its own key. The newer ships use your Sail and Sign card as the key, but not with this class of ship or lower. I found it a little bit of a pain having to remember the key. I'm so use to just having my Sail and Sign card with me. The safe also used a 4 digit numeric code you set. It was not the type that uses a magnetic card like a credit card or what I use, my Kroger Plus Card.
While we did check out the Spa area, we did not take advantage of this area. I'm not sure, but I believe the prices have gone up for the spa. It's hard to find anything from the spa for under $100. I was looking forward to using some of my credit for a massage, but $140 for 50 minutes was a bit much for my thinking. The fitness area was smaller but well stocked with the normal machines you find in most gyms. They also had a volleyball net which I never saw used, and a basketball half court that did have 2 on 2 several times during the week. Ping Pong and shuffleboard was also available.
We did use the sports track after breakfast a number of mornings. But the best use of the sports track was the high vantage point to get cellular service to call work and home to update them on our status and when we would be home.
We did not see a shore for 5 solid days. I have to say, because of this, this trip was one of the most relaxing vacations I have ever had. There is something to be said about days at sea and neither my wife nor I missed going ashore on bit.
Let's see. I just spent under $500 for both of us to be pampered and waited on for 5 solid days in a floating resort? The best value so far! And we get to do it again at 50% off and this time we will take the kids.
This was a long drawn out process because of Frances. We were originally scheduled to be back in Port Canaveral Sunday morning. This was the very same day Frances hit the coast. When we left on Thursday, we slid in-between Frances and the Florida coast and headed south. By Friday morning we were 90 miles south of Key West and into some gorgeous weather. We spent most of the remainder of the trip in the Gulf of Mexico. We did get The Weather Channel pumped into the cabins several times and knew what was going on at home. We were miles away from any danger and had no sign of Frances whatsoever.
We found out early on in the cruise that our best scenario to return to Port Canaveral was Tuesday morning. The US Coast Guard had closed the port shortly after we left on Thursday and we were at the mercy of the Coast Guard to allow us back in after they checked everything out and give some sort of determination of allowing any ships back into port.
By Monday morning we were informed that we would be sailing close enough to the Florida coast that we may be able to use our cell phones to contact loved ones and make travel arrangements for the trip home. While my Sprint service did get a signal, I was unable to connect, but my Nextel service from work did work like a charm. I got a kick out of everyone up on the Sports deck with their cell phones open and held up to the sky turning every which direction trying to get some sort of signal. From what I understand, AT&T, Verizon, and Nextel were the only service that worked 12 miles out to sea. Cingular, Sprint, and T-Mobile did not work. (FYI)
By Monday afternoon we were informed at the debarkation talk that we would not be returning to Port Canaveral because the Coast Guard had found buoys out of place and a large amount of silt in the channel that the ships would not be able to navigate in safely. We were now in route to the Port of Miami. While the news was only minutes old from the US Coast Guard at the time of the debarkation talk, Carnival was trying to secure transportation via buses to bus us back to Port Canaveral Tuesday morning. I can only imagine the action going on in the home office in Miami, of what to do with several ships trying to get back home. Carnival Glory had already been out to sea for more than a week and was scheduled to be back in Port Canaveral Saturday. I was also aware of two Disney ships and at least one Royal Caribbean that needed to get back to Port Canaveral.
We were promised an update by dinner. Well we got an update, and it was good news, bad news scenario. We found that Carnival did check the parking lot and found that all the cars were not only there but still intact and undamaged as far as they could tell. (Unbelievable, since the eye of the storm hit just 20 miles south of where we parked.) Carnival had found the buses had been retained by relief efforts trying to get people into Florida to offer assistance. Carnival was unable to retain any buses for us for Tuesday morning. It was almost surreal and I actually thought they were kidding when he said it, but it was fact that we could be stuck on the ship for one more day. Not that that was all that bad, we just wanted to see the kids and get home at this point.
Now, Carnival did give us some options. They were very understanding that some people needed to get home so we were given three options.
1. We could secure our on transportation or flights out of Miami for Tuesday morning and make our way home at our expense. 2. We could remain on board the ship while in port until Wednesday morning when they could secure busses to bus us from Miami to either Orlando International, or Port Canaveral. 3. Remain on the ship until 5:00pm when the ship would set sail once again for Port Canaveral to arrive Thursday morning.
Both option 2 and 3 were at Carnivals expense. We had several large cruise ships heading into Port of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale Port Everglades. The entire state was a wreck from Hurricane Frances. While I felt we could fly from Miami to Atlanta no problem, we still had our car in Port Canaveral, and two young children that we missed in South Georgia with their Grandparents. While it was a little tough for my wife to swallow, since she was really missing the kids, we thought our best option was Option 2 and hang until we could get a bus ride up to Port Canaveral.
We made some calls to update our family up on Sports Deck and then started a load of laundry...again. Then out of the blue, we ran into Patty, our table mate. Both she and Allan had been looking for us. Allan decided to try to secure a rental car from Miami to Port Canaveral, and was able to get a reservation number over the internet in the Internet Cafe. They then went hunting for both my wife and I. When she gave us the news and offered to take us with them, I gave her a great big hug! I couldn't believe it. All we needed to do was get a taxi from the port to the airport.
The next morning we met up with Allan and Patty at 7:00am grabbed some breakfast, took a good look at the Glory which we are booked on in February and waited for about an hour for customs to clear the ship. Since we only had a few bags, we were able to carry them off ourselves and found a taxi within minutes of getting outside the gate. We loaded up the van and headed for the airport. I made a joke that we booked Port Canaveral so we wouldn't have to drive all the way to Miami. We got to the Budget Rental agency and upgrade to a Lincoln Town Car for the ride up to Port Canaveral. (Might as well go in style right?)
On the trip up I-95 we saw for the first time the devastation of Hurricane Frances, the further north the worse the damage. We did make a stop for a bathroom break to find gas stations closed, and lines out the door of restaurants, because no one had power. Not a single rest stop the entire route up I-95 was open. The line of relief vehicles heading southbound on I-95 was incredible. Convoy after convoy of power trucks, tree removal trucks, US Reserve units, just simply incredible.
By 1:00 we made it up to Port Canaveral to find both our cars in fact in tact and in working order. A little salty, but she started right up. Allan and Patty headed back to St. Petersburg, to see if they had any damage to their house with a stop at Orlando International to drop of the rental car. My wife and I headed up to South Georgia to get our children.
The really weird thing about this whole Port Canaveral thing was that there was very little damage anywhere in that general area. The eye of the storm hit just south of there and there was no damage to the terminals or any of the cars parked out in the open lots.
We spent the night in South Georgia and headed home the next morning. We called Allan and Patty not only to thank them again for their kindness, but to also check to see about the condition of their home. (They simply lost power, but no damage.)
By no means was this a "normal" cruise. A plethora of twists and turns around every corner, but that's what Mother Nature and her wrath can do. While its apparent that some on the cruise did not take things in stride quite as well as my wife and I, we both felt that Carnival did everything they could to keep us up to date, and well cared for the entire time. Of course there was some miss communication among the staff at times, but that happens when you are thrown so many curve balls from outside sources. I realize that Carnival was at the mercy of the US Coast Guard, and also to the relief efforts to stabilize the grand state of Florida. The entire crew was polite, professional, and understanding the entire time.
We did find out after we got back Carnival did end our Cruise the next morning and would not be able to return to Port Canaveral Thursday morning. They were able to secure busses to take passengers either to Orlando Airport or Port Canaveral.
This was our 6th cruise with Carnival and it rates as one of the best, because it was so relaxing and just what my wife and I needed at the time. We could have done without the extra trip to Miami but that's not Carnivals fault. We got a couple of extra days of pampering, great food and entertainment. Carnival Fantasy was our destination, and it was a grand destination.
Our prayers and thoughts are with the residence of Florida during this time.