We took a 5 day cruise out of Charleston on the Carnival Fantasy for a friend's birthday. We had a group of 10 with us and everyone made it back safely. Being from South Carolina it was very easy for the group to take this cruise as it was less than 3 hours from home and the price was pretty reasonable. I will first off say that it was not my favorite cruise by any means, however there were some positives. I will further preface my review by saying we have cruised RCL and NCL and this was our first Carnival cruise. I did not really know what to expect in terms of quality and experience compared to the other two lines, however I will say it was definitely an experience.
Embarkation: I was a little worried with the embarkation process due to the ship leaving from a makeshift cruise ship terminal. I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth the process was. The signs to get into the parking area were very helpful and all of the port staff did a great job getting everyone to where they needed to be. We got into the terminal and made it through the lines and onto the ship in under 30 minutes, which I consider pretty good. Once on the ship we made our way to our room that had just become accessible, and then on to grab some lunch from the Lido.
The Ship: This could be a little severe to some and maybe I'm just plain picky, but I was not impressed at all with the ship. I do know that Carnival tends to have a much different theme than RCL does, but some of the decor was horrible. The stairways (minus the ones that go two floors in the middle) were just plain ugly. They were dark and there were no pieces of art of pretty scenes as on the RCL boats. Obviously this boat is very old and it showed in many places, however I will say that Carnival had done a decent refurbish job which helped some. I did not care for how the floors were named, with many not having numbers next to the name. We got on some elevators and all they had was a floor name and then some only had numbers. The majority of the lounge areas were somewhat pretty, but the overabundance of smoke took away almost all the beauty. Previous ships that I have been on have not been filled with smoke as this one was. It seemed like everywhere you went there was a cloud of smoke, with some being worse than others. I don't ever remember being turned off by the smell of smoke on other ships that I have been on. Most all the RCL ships we have sailed on had a lot less smoking areas and I guess there tended to be less people smoking because I have never had to leave a lounge area as I did this time. I think that the more modern boats tend to have things arranged better, but you can only do so much with an older ship and I'm aware of that. Why is the pool the size of a postage stamp? I definitely liked the water slide being accessible to everyone and not just kids and the putt putt was nothing too great to look at, but it was fun anyway. The gym seemed to be decent sized for this ship, however it got way overcrowded and we just went to using the small track outside. I always wished the sushi bar had more to offer and was open more hours, however I fully understand the logistics of their operation from a financial standpoint.
Dining: With RCL's food quality suffering greatly in the past few years, I was really looking forward to Carnival food as the reviews I have read had been pretty good. We had late seating, which is a little late for us, however it was what we were stuck with so we made the best of it. Our waiter was pretty shy and never warmed up to us as the trip went on, however our assistant waiter was pretty good. The food quality in the dining room at the beginning of the cruise was great (better than RCL), however after day two the quality began to suffer and I was not as impressed. I felt very rushed at dinner. I had a couple nights where I had not finished my first course and the waiter was either hovering over my shoulder, trying to take my unfinished plate, or a couple of times he actually just put my next course down beside the one I was eating. I have never felt that rushed on any cruise before, but I've never had a late seating so maybe it was just them trying to finish up. I wasn't impressed with the dessert selections so I tried several, but always ended up going back to that awesome molten cake (which by they way was great). We ate breakfast and lunch on the Lido deck most of the time and it was decent. The first two days I was impressed with the quality of my breakfast and lunch, however that got worse as time went on but it was more than edible. The temperature of all the food was great in both the dining room and on the Lido. I did enjoy the pizza bar at the back of the Lido. Overall I think cruise ship food quality has been on a decline recently and this trip did nothing to change my mind there, although I did not starve by any means.
Staterooms: We had an exterior stateroom on the Main deck and I was impressed. The size of the room compared to the same on an RCL ship was possibly a little bigger. The decor was kind of plain, but you only sleep there. Our room steward was very good and we did not have a lot of interaction with him, but never had anything to complain about either.
Ports: Nassau and Freeport are just that, Nassau and Freeport. Having been to both many times there was not a lot to do as neither are my favorite. We went to the shopping area in Freeport and stayed a very short time, before coming back to the boat and relaxing by the pool. In Nassau we went to Atlantis and took our little one to see the aquarium areas. This resort is very pretty and if I were to stay in Nassau for a couple of days this is definitely where I would stay. Some of our group rented mopeds and rode around the island having an absolute ball.
Service: The service and friendliness of the staff get an A+. Everyone we encountered that worked for Carnival was beyond gracious. They all took time to speak to us and seemed to love our DD. Our assistant Maitre D' (Alesandria) in the Celebration dining room was phenomenal. I had read on several reviews that Carnival did not cater to helping out food wise with very young children, but Alesandria made every effort to get our DD whatever we needed. We did not find a single person that seemed to be unfriendly and I will definitely commend the cruise line on their training and quality of character of their staff.
Debarkation: This process was fairly smooth and clearing customs was so much easier than we've ever encountered in Miami or other ports.
Overall, I will have to say I was disappointed with the cruise, except for the staff. The boat was definitely older and it showed in the layout and some other areas. The smoking was horrendous and I will make sure to make note of the difference (I hope) when we sail on another RCL ship. I guess the Funship or party atmosphere is a little much for me. I hope that if I take a Carnival ship in the future that we have a different experience and it may take getting on one of their newer ships to do so. If you have any other questions I'd definitely be glad to answer or you.