Pardon the lengthyness, I promise it'll be worth it.
My boyfriend and I just returned from our 7-night cruise on the Fascination, and while the cruise is still fresh in my mind, I'll highlight some of the pros and cons of the trip. I'll start out by saying that although we are a very young couple, we aren't rowdy and really don't enjoy intense alcohol-fueled partying, so we were a little disappointed to find that this cruise was pretty much nothing but that.
The Jacksonville port was a breeze. It was very, very organized and took us less than an hour to go from arrival to on the ship. The picture-takers were very quick and didn't hassle everyone to stop for one. We took a shuttle from the airport to the cruise, since it was the same price as a cab ($30 RT pp) and would just automatically be billed to our stateroom.
For a basic interior, the room was very spacious and the closet size was incredible. I could have fit a wardrobe for an entire family! Our staterooms were ready at 1:30 and we were immediatley greeted by our wonderful stateroom attendant. No matter the time of day, we ALWAYS saw him or one of his team members tidying up on our floor. We had a different towel animal, the cruise flyer, and two chocolates on our bed after dinner every night without fail.
The food and service in the dining room were beyond what I expected. Both our head waiter Lin and our assistant waiter Jose were overly attentive and went above and beyond without even asking. We often saw our head waiter working at other stations during breakfast and lunch shifts and always stopped for a short conversation with my boyfriend and I, always reminding us of dining and buffet events to come.
The buffets on the other hand were pretty inadequate and not even close in comparison to other ships we've been on, such as NCL and RCI. There was always a long line which moved pretty quickly, but it really wasn't worth the wait. We chose to opt out of the second formal night and the dinner selection at the buffet was very poor, with about less than 10 food options not counting the pizza, salad, and deli bar. We did enjoy the buffets on special occasions, such as Cinco de Mayo and the mongolian stir-fry.
We attended the sushi bar every day. The selection was very small with only about 2-3 rolls to choose from, and the server would only give you a maximum of 4 pieces of sushi at a time so we were constantly going back and forth from the table to the line. Although it was a small inconvenience, the sushi attendant was very polite, and would have our plates ready just by listening to us discuss what we were planning to try.
We were a bit put off by the fact that the pools and hot tubs on the lido deck and the adults-only serenity deck closed at 10 P.M. In addition, the water works slides closed at an extremely early 6:00 P.M. So if you're with children, expect for them to only be able to attend the water park on sea days, because you wont have time before or after any ports to do so.
The gift shops are open until about midnight and the bars and casino are open until whenever the last person leaves or passes out. Enough said.
The initial two comedians had the same act for THREE nights in a row at two different times, so basically six identical comedy shows. Alledgedly, these were comedians that were featured on HBO, Comedy Central, etc. and didn't have enough material for more than one 20-minute show? The boat picked up another two comedians in Grand Turk, Tommy Drake and another guy who was so terrible that I can't remember his name. Tommy Drake was great, & the second comedian was visably intoxicated during his act, another disappointment.
The shows featured in the main palace theater were a mix of awesome and so-so. The juggler was great, the far from over show was awesome, and the mo-town singer was "ehhh". Make sure you attend the couples gameshow, it was really funny!
Unless you're planning on simply sitting by the pool and drinking heavily, don't expect to be busy throughout this cruise. There isn't even a band that plays on the pool deck for more than an hour at a time onc a day. There were next to no activities during both sea days and days where we were at port. There was a martini tasting, a champagne art auction where you had to wait on a line for 30+ minutes to enter, and a few shows that began during the late dining seating at 8:00-ish. Other than that, karaoke or the same comedy show you've seen twice already followed by getting wasted in the diamonds lounge and money-blowing in the casino. Not too fun for a "funship".
This is the part that really bothered me. My boyfriend and I attended this cruise because the price between the airfare and the cruise itself was unbeatable. We learned quickly that there is a reason for that. Because of the affordability, all of the riff-raff that cannot afford to attend other cruises with Carnival or other lines are on this boat. ALL OF THEM. From day 1, we saw people pushing the elderly out of the way at buffet lines and tables, people stretching their feet across the couch seats in the theaters and lounges so no one else could sit, people LITERALLY passed out on the floor from being intoxicated, fights, and small children in adult only karaoke and comedy shows. I understand that Carnival wants to maximize the amount of money spent on liquor, but they must have forgot that they also have a responsibility not to serve already heavily intoxicated people for their own safety and the sake of fellow passengers with some sort of class. Paying the little bit of extra money to leave from another port obviously helps to weed out this type of unacceptable behavior on both Carnival and the cruise-goer's parts.
Sidenote: While in Grand Turk, we saw a number of Carnival employees, including Trevor, the cruise director drinking heavily at Margaritaville. Furthermore, these employees were crowding the bars so the cruise goers (you know, the people who write their paychecks?) can sit down and have a drink without having to push their way through or listen to their rowdyness. We've never been there before -- they have.. every week, actually. So not only is there limited common courtesy onboard, but by employees in the ports as well. I've NEVER EVER seen other cruise employees be permitted to drink in front of guests in that manner.
Oh, and expect to wait over an hour to board a tender to Half Moon Cay or just leave after 11:00 like we did.
All in all, we'll sail with Carnival again, but we'll invest a few extra dollars in leaving from locations such as our home ports of NYC and Bayonne where behavior like we saw on this vessel won't be tolerated. We had fun because we made it fun and always found a soluton to the inconveniences that threw us for a loop. We got exactly what we paid for with the Fascination, a cheap cruise.