Our first cruise was a few years ago - 8 nights on the Carnival Legend, so perhaps we had unrealistic expectations for this shorter version on the much-older Fascination. Regardless, we were definitely 'underwhelmed' by the experience.
We traveled with another couple (friends from our town) and really enjoyed our time together. Unfortunately, much of it was spent commiserating over the boring food, the sometimes half-hearted entertainment, and the lousy port advice from the excursion staff.
First, the food: because we could barely catch our breath once we went through the trying registration process, we ate the first evening at the buffet on the Lido deck. Now, we didn't expect anything overly impressive from the buffet, so we weren't disappointed. The food was edible, mostly warm, and quite varied. Breakfast was another thing - the meats were usually cold and the coffee was really bad. Because evening two was formal night in the main dining room, and because we decided not to overpack with suits and such, we again hit the buffet for much the same fare as the night before. You can imagine our excitement to be seated in the main dining room on night three; unfortunately, the food was nearly as predictable there. Main dining breakfast on Day 4 was equally disappointing; we were seated with four other people we had never met, so the conversation went from hushed embarrassment to a monologue with decidedly too much information shared. This ship needs an upcharge restaurant to offer a better level of cuisine, at least in the evenings. The bottom line? Don't expect the lavish meals you read about on many cruises and you won't be disappointed.
We enjoyed karaoke on more than one night; the passengers were fun and supportive, and the staff was engaging. When we looked for a change of pace and visited the piano bar, we were soundly disappointed. Not only was there no seating available, the keyboardist was regularly off-key. Sheesh.
Finally, the ports. Ah, yes... Freeport and Nassau. We were well aware of all the shore excursions that were offered, and opted to go on our own instead of paying the upcharges. Freeport was little more than a small carnival of vendors who spent much of their time waiting for cruise ships to dock, and the rest of the time filling roles as actors on stage. We didn't stay long, so I'm sure there is much we missed, but it just didn't seem overly inviting as a port. We were ready for Nassau to be our exciting shore visit, with the Atlantis Resort in plain view of the port - again, however, we opted out of the $130 per person upcharge to visit Atlantis on day passes. Instead, we asked a guy at the shore excursion desk if there were public beaches we could walk to, and he proceeded to send us to one 20 minutes away that should've been condemned... broken glass everywhere, empty liquor bottles on concrete barriers, discarded undergarments buried in the sand. Nice. To be sure, Nassau has a large population of disadvantaged citizens, but they all seemed to be around us at this first beach. So, we headed back to the port to catch a cab to another beach we had heard about - Cable Beach. $20 later, the cabbie dropped us at a hotel (Westin, I think?) on Cable Beach and said, "Go through this door, walk through the casino and onto the beach." So we did... and met the doormen at the back of the property who informed us that we needed to purchase a 'buddy pass' to spend the day there. We trudged a half mile to the registration desk, and said pass was $40 per person. "Isn't there public beach access anywhere?" we asked. "Five minutes in either direction," the counter lady said. It's just a short walk. Well, you know the rest - we walked another 25 minutes and found a postage stamp of a beach next to Sandals with no services. We ended up crossing a crazy busy highway to throw down a beer at a little restaurant and asked the bartender to call us a cab back to the port.
Now, could we have done more port research before sailing? Of course. SHOULD we have to do that, instead of trusting the advice of a crew member? No.
The best part of this ship is definitely the adults only deck, Serenity. Two hot tubs and the most comfortable lounge chairs on the boat by far. Unfortunately, the servers who indiscriminately float around the ship seemed to ignore the area so we almost always had to go fetch our own cocktails. When other passengers were in the ports, this place was absolutely fabulous, though.
There were many families on board, and I have to say, the kids were either the quietest ever or the Camp Carnival people kept them busy and happy.
The Fascination is neither fascinating nor particularly impressive; however, we were on a budget and it was about what you would expect it to be... which is a shame because it has the potential to be substantially more.