Background Info: This is the second cruise for our family, our first being on Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas. Our son is 10-years old and has Asperger's Syndrome (high functioning autism) and ADHD so we were somewhat anxious about how this longer cruise would turn out.
Hotel Info: We stayed at the Best Western, downtown Charleston, on Lockwood Boulevard. The Park and Cruise package was about $150 and included transportation to the port, but no return transportation. The hotel was clean, quiet, and only minutes away from the port.
Embarkation: We appreciated the 5 ½ hour drive to Charleston versus our previous 10 hour drive to Port Canaveral. Embarkation was a seamless process for us since I had called ahead to inform Carnival that I have a special needs child. We were escorted to Special Guest Services and checked in by a very helpful lady. We were then escorted to the gangway by the Special Guest Services.
Stateroom: We were on the fourth floor (Riviera) in an ocean-view room. Our room was clean and offered plenty of storage space and a great view. Our beds were very comfortable and my son slept well on the pull out bed.
Ship Info: Fantasy's theme is mostly neon lighting, which is what we expected. However, there were some areas (especially Floor 9 - Promenade) of marble dEcor, which gave a nice regal touch. The layout of the ship is pretty easy to manage by the end of the first full day. For those wanting some quiet time, the Serenity deck (adults only) offers nicer lounge chairs, two hot tubs, and a great view.
Activities/Entertainment: Throughout the sail days, there were plenty of activities to attend. There was the famous Hairy Chest contest, talent contest, towel folding sessions, and so on. We watched several of these activities on the television, but did not attend the above specific activities. My DH attended the disembarkation session and I did attend the Cruise 411 session. We all attended the two shows, "Night Club Express" and "Ticket to Ride." I enjoyed the shows, but since the Camp Carnival kids attend the "Night Club Express" show, I wish the dancers would wear a leotard versus a thong. Some of the dance acts were much better than others and I, in fact, made a comment to my husband that I was reminded of the episode where Spanky and Alfalfa dressed up like ballerinas and attempted to blend in during a recital. I thought the male lead vocal (Colin Harrington) was much better than the female lead vocal (Laura Nell Dubuisson), who sounded too much like a pageant talent act. Overall, however, the shows were entertaining. Our son was very disappointed the pool was over his head and the same depth from side to side, but he really enjoyed the kid's water park and, to our amazement, tried and repeatedly enjoyed the three-story slide.
Service: We have absolutely no complaints about any service received. In fact, we were very pleased with our stateroom attendant, Jose'. He kept our room clean and our ice bucket full of ice. He also greeted us by name every time we saw him in the hallway. All of the dining service was just as superior. From the Windows on the Seas buffet to the formal dining room, all of the food service was great. Someone was constantly picking up our trash and trays on our table and someone else was always sweeping debris from the floor.
Dining: We had breakfast in the formal dining room and in the buffet. We thought the breakfast was good at both places and received more than enough food. I never ate lunch at the buffet because I could not find anything I like (picky eater), so I mostly ate lunch from the grill or the pizzeria. I did order room service (turkey with chips and cheesecake) on the Freeport day around 4:00 and the sandwich was mighty tasty. The formal dining room was my favorite dining experience. The dining room was both elegant, yet entertaining. Desi was our maitre d' and she kept us entertained, along with all of the wait staff. One of my favorite servers was Roferta, the bread server. Everything I had in the main dining room was really good except for the flat iron steak, which was bland to me. I also thought the lobster was a little mushy for my taste. However, I had shrimp cocktail and fruit cocktail every night for an appetizer (except for the fried shrimp night appetizer) and they were great. The fruit was always very fresh, juicy, and tasty. Some of my favorite dishes were the veal parmesan, grilled shrimp with lobster (minus the lobster), grilled chicken, and red skin potatoes (which I asked for every night). My absolute favorite dessert was the crème brulee. It was as good as any formal restaurant's crème brulee. I also had the melting cake several nights and even though I wish it had a little more cake versus liquid chocolate, it definitely satisfied my chocolate fix.
Port Excursions: We did not pre-schedule any port excursions, but we did take a taxi to the Atlantis and self-toured after our visit to Cabbage Beach. We did the Glass Bottom Boat on our last cruise and we thought that excursion was reasonably priced and enjoyable. We also took a taxi to Lucaya Beach in Freeport and hung out on the beach for about four hours. We rented chairs at both places, $20 for two and $15 for two at Freeport and Cabbage Beach respectively.
Children's Club: I have saved the best for last. On arrival day we met with the Camp Carnival Manager, Jennifer, and she gave our son a tour of the facilities. We didn't expect him to want to come back, but thought we would at least present the facility to him. On the first night, he told us to just drop him off at the camp before going to dinner. We were both shocked because he is a mama's boy and will not go anywhere without me. When we went to pick him up after our 8:15 dinner, he asked us to come back later and pick him up. He never once ate dinner in the main dining room with us, but instead asked to go to Camp Carnival every night from 7:00 to 11:30 (except 10:00 on last night). Camp Carnival was packed with continuous activities and our son was able to make several souvenirs to bring home.
Disembarkation: We were one of the last groups to get off the ship. Since Charleston is a smaller port, Carnival staggered the self-assist and assisted debarkation. We easily found our luggage and stood in line only about 15 minutes to go through Homeland Security. We were effortlessly able to get a taxi from the port to our hotel since they were lined up outside the port waiting for any passengers needing transportation.
Summary: This was a very enjoyable vacation on an economical ship. Even though the ship was not new and extremely modern, there were enough dEcor touches to prevent the interior from looking gaudy. The dining room staff and stateroom attendants provided first class service and made the experience pleasant and enjoyable. The entertainment was plenty and there were several themed bars and lounges for music and dancing. The pool is too deep for most children, which is why the hot tubs on the lido deck are full of children despite being for adults only. However, the kid's water park on Deck 10 can satisfy any kid's splashing desires. Overall, this was a great vacation, which offered relaxation for us and an introduction of independence to our son.