* Background Information
This was our first cruise and we decided to make it a family cruise. We had three generations traveling together: Grandma, my wife and me, our two kids, and my sister's two kids. My sister was supposed to travel as well, but she couldn't make it past the port since she didn't have her birth certificate...oops.
The Jacksonville port facility is nothing fancy...just a big room set up with several lines. I think we waited around one hour to get to the check-in counter. The staff was OK...but nothing special. My sister was not able to board the ship as she could not prove her citizenship. The staff tried to help, but as we were sailing on a Saturday, we had no recourse to find her papers. The staff did make sure she could get her car from the parking lot.
* Ship Info
Fascination is an older ship, but I couldn't tell. The public spaces were nicely appointed and almost always clean.
The putt-putt golf course was in the middle of the running track, but that didn't seem to be an issue. The only "problem" with the golf course was that the balls and clubs were checked out all the way down on the lido deck. Still, not really that far.
The track was 1/11th of a mile...I think. The gym was good sized and had a good array of equipment. I didn't use the locker room, but passing through, it seemed to have enough room for small crowds.
The pool was not very big. It was nice to jump in to cool off, but not very useful for swimming. Two hot tubs near the pool were always full, one with kids and the other with adults. The hot tubs in Serenity, on the aft deck, seemed to be not so full, but I never made it that far. The water slides were good, albeit not as nice as Disney's new slide on Magic, but fun for all ages.
While lounging at the pool on the lido deck, we were able to watch the typical shows: ice carving, drink mixing (I won), hairy chest, scavenger hunt, etc. Also on this deck, we enjoyed a life-size chess set, extra-large Jenga, and bean bag toss (everyone's favorite).
Drink prices were reasonable and servers were plentiful, but not pushy. Food was also nearby.
Wow! The service was the best part of the cruise. Almost everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful.
Our room steward often asked if we needed anything and always did a perfect job in the room. The dining room staff was even better. Our team of Romel, Maria, and Di Mada, treated us as family. We challenged them with our kids, but they handled us well and made sure we enjoyed out dinner. Anytime we saw our steward or dining room staff throughout the ship they were quick to recognize us and say hi and even stop to chat for a minute.
* Port & Shore Excursions
All excursions were priced too high, especially when we needed to multiply by 7!
The disembarkation for Half Moon Cay took a long time; I recommend either trying to get on the first boat or waiting until after the line goes done. The same applies to returning from the island. We waited in a long line in the sun for at least 40 mintues coming back to the ship. I wonder if we could have waited until 20 minutes before the ship was supposed to leave and walk on to an empty ferry??
While at HMC, we did rent some paddle boats. There seemed to be a shortage of kayaks, cabanas, clam umbrellas, and other rental items. The island staff (NOT Carnival) were not the most friendly and not always helpful. The BBQ lunch was delicious and filling, but not as close to the beach as I would have preferred.
Again, since we had a large group, we avoided any excursions. In Nassau, we rented a minivan for $140 plus 430 in gas. We drove to the Queen's Staircase and Fort Fincastle, Ardasta Gardens, the Caves, and finally the Pirate Museum. Scooters were available right off the boat as were plenty of pushy taxi driver with various tours.
Nassau was much dirtier than I would have imagined. There was trash all over the entire island, even near the tourist attractions. We finished the day at the Straw Market and came up with some good bargains. As a rule of thumb, if they ask $15 for something, your target should be near $5. Remember, your best bargaining weapon is your feet. Walk away and if the vendor wants to make a sale, she will call you back and match your price.
We had three rooms on the Riviera deck...all the way on the bottom. The elevators were prompt for the most part and we never had to wait long to get where we needed to go.
Two of our rooms were R210 and R214. These rooms had two single beds with a mattress on the floor. The mattress on the floor did limit walking space in the room. The beds and the mattress were soft, clean and comfortable. The small desk/mirror were adequate. The 2.5 closets were plenty of room for three people (kids). The bathroom was also plenty big enough.
Again, a highlight of the trip, the food was outstanding.
We ate breakfast in the Coconut Grill area on the Lido Deck everyday. They had a good selection of hot food fresh from the grill and an even better selection of fresh pastries. Two very minor complaints: the pancakes were dry, the pastries did not change from day to day. Juice and coffee were tasty and refilled at the table.
Lunch was either in the Coconut Grill or at the poolside grill or at the pizza bar. I think my son ate 20 slices of pizza on this cruise!
Dinner in the main dining room was an experience we will never forget. Our servers were top notch and the food was delicious. Each night, the menu had seven or eight new items along with four or five that were always on the menu.
Some of the main courses were: lobster and shrimp, steak, lasagna, veal Parmesan, turkey, and tilapia. The kids' menu had six or seven items including pizza, chicken tenders, and hot dogs. Dessert was always good, and often times, hard to choose, but you can always order more than one! The melting chocolate cake was so rich...I can still taste it.
We went to both shows in the main room, but never made it to the small venues where they had comedy acts. The main show room hosted two separate shows: Mambo Mambo and a tribute to the 80s. The Mambo show was high-tempo and had a couple of risque numbers...all together a great show. The 80s tribute was nothing surprising and seemed to end quite abruptly. For both shows, we enjoyed the music and the dancers seemed to enjoy performing.
This was easy. We left our bags out the night before, which was a slight challenge with eating dinner and then going to the show. The bags needed to be in the hall between 8 and 11, although I think that if we had been late, they still would have taken the bags. The next day, we chilled next to the pool, eating a late breakfast and waiting to be called to disembark. There was almost no wait to get off and we found our bags easily.
Our vacation started out on a sour note when my sister could not board, but it quickly improved. Our kids enjoyed the facilities on the ship and the adults were able to relax in the room or at the pool. The staff on Fascination seemed to be genuinely friendly and helpful. All things considered, we had a wonderful trip and made some long-lasting memories. We will definitely cruise again.