We just returned from a 4 night cruise to the Bahamas on Carnival's Fascination. It was actually a family and friends cruise as 23 of us went. Overall, everyone had a good time, however; I believe everyone who was on our last cruise on Royal Caribbean will attest that this cruise did not meet the standards set by Royal Caribbean. My background - 32 year old male who has been on eight previous cruises. My previous Carnival experience was on Inspiration and Imagination. These were my first two 7-day cruises.
Embarkation: This process moved quickly and efficiently. We were on the ship within 15 minutes of walking in the front doors.
Ship: To me, the ship was in excellent shape for its age. The only truly visible signs of wear was in the carpeting on the Riviera deck hallways. You would see obvious water stains all the way down the hall from when the rooms had obviously flooded. Other than this, the only other wear I saw was on the elevators in the Atrium area. The brass was very scratched around the elevator. Of the three Carnival ship's I've been on, this was the most tastefully decorated. I thought the usual bright neon was subdued throughout.
Food: The poor food quality is the reason my partner and I ventured out and tried a cruiseline other than Carnival. Up until this cruise we had not been on a Carnival cruise since 1997 and were really hoping that the food quality had dramatically improved. I'm happy to report that the food quality was much improved, but it still was not up to what I have experienced on other lines. On this cruise, we did not eat in the dining room - a first for us, so I can't speak personally on the dining room food. We did attempt to go to the dining room for lunch when in Nassau only to find out they don't open the dining room on port days.
On the Lida buffet was available - disappointing. Others in our group said the dining room food was good, but nothing exceptional. The alternative dining, from my viewpoint is lacking. The quality is OK, but the selection is minimal at best. I don't eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza at home and surely don't want that on vacation and everyday, half the alternative dining was nothing more than hamburgers and hot dogs (Lunch and Dinner). I believe Royal Caribbean does a much better job with alternative dining and from what was told to me by others in our group in the dining room as well. For this reason alone, I doubt I will return to Carnival anytime soon.
Service: Service onboard the ship was average. All the staff were cordial and polite, but no one smiled. It was like the were all going through the motions. The only exception to this was our cabin steward - we was friendly and bubbly.
Carnival still pushes alcohol sales. On the pool deck it turned into badgering. They were just in your face. They didn't just walk around announcing bar service and if you wanted a drink you signal them. They would come right up to you and say, "Bucket of beer for you? Need a drink?". This was non-stop, because a couple minutes after that waiter stopped and asked, the next would come by and do the same thing.
One other thing about the ship was that it was very cold. The promenade deck was absolutely freezing. Some in our group bought sweat shirts to wear around the ship to stay warm.
Overall, as I said above, I had a good time, but not a great time. If you are looking for a quick cheap basic getaway, then this may be the ship for you. If you are looking for the vacation of a lifetime feeling, as I have usually felt when leaving a ship, then you will probably want to look beyond Carnival. I'm glad I tried Carnival again, but it just solidified my preference for Royal Caribbean. Happy sailing.