Having only cruised with Celebrity and Holland America in the past, I was a little worried about cruising on the Carnival Fascination. I had read a mixture of reviews, some good, some very critical. However, with two boys aged 8 and 11 having never been on a cruise, my wife and I decided this would be a great way to see if we are cut out for family cruising. We were on the April 25-30 cruise to Key West and Nassau. It was probably the best vacation we've been on together. A warning first: if you don't like being around a lot of kids, don't take this cruise during spring break season, it will be full of children. We had 700 out of 2400 passengers under the age of 18.
Embarkation was a little slow but nothing to complain about. We live in Jacksonville so the terminal is 20 minutes from our house. Sweet!
For the first time ever I was in an inside cabin. I actually was pleasantly surprised. A king size bed and 2 pull downs. Lots of storage and very comfortable beds. With no sun in the morning, it is very easy to sleep late. We put a towel under the door to block the light. A very peaceful hideaway. Our room steward was wonderful with different towel animals each evening. With our two boys, we didn't linger in the cabin very long.
Camp Carnival was a big hit with the boys, they just loved it. They were in separate groups for most activities and together later in the night. They print a schedule so they can pick and choose different activities. This gave the wife and me some alone time for the Serenity adult retreat, shows, casino, etc. This isn't just a place to store your kids so you can party, the staff is very good at helping the children relax and have fun. If the boys didn't want to go, we didn't make them.
The pool was always crowded, the hot tubs full, and chairs by the pool hard to find. Again, this doesn't bother me, I love all the families having fun together. Almost all the kids were well behaved. Waterslides were a big hit. They close at six and in high winds at sea, but we got enough use out of them. Serenity is a nice adult retreat if you have to escape the pool noise or if you don't have children with you. Didn't play mini golf, but it was well maintained and looked like fun. Maybe next time. Musicians playing by the pool were for the most part pretty good. The ship was very clean and well maintained. The crew was constantly cleaning and picking up.
Now about the food. This is not Celebrity by any means but I knew that going in. I would say about 3 out of 5 stars. I had an overcooked steak the first night and that was the low point. We ate in the restaurant 3 out of 5 nights on the flexible plan. Always got seated right away. I did notice that the buffet entrees were also on the dining room menu, with the dining room adding 1 or 2 more entrees (like lobster on formal night, which we skipped). Buffet for breakfast or lunch always had lines, sometimes long, but they moved quickly and everyone was polite and helpful. Mongolian wok was the slowest and we didn't try it. They feature different regional cuisines on different days, which is nice. The Caribbean day had jerk chicken nicely grilled, rice and beans, and pepper pot soup, which I love. My favorite meal all week. The 24-hour pizza was my 8 year old's favorite option. That and the non-stop ice cream. The sushi bar has limited hours and choices, but it was very good and you can go back again and again. We brought a case of Dasani water in a small suitcase, which was nice to have all week. Didn't do the soda card, there's plenty of ice tea and lemonade and we aren't big soda drinkers anyway. My wife and I had a lot of fun trying the "drink of the day", every day! Rum based with fruit and quite tasty. I won't say what the final tab was, but it was pretty large and soooo worth it.
We didn't book any excursions before hand. I've been to Key West many times but my wife hadn't, so we took the Old Town Trolley for the island tour followed by a walk up and down Duval Street. Drank a beer at Sloppy Joe's and ate key lime pie on a stick (very good). The taco place (Amigos) right across from Captain Tony's was a nice, inexpensive lunch, very refreshing and great sangria too. In Nassau we took a taxi to Atlantis and spent the day playing at their incredible water park, Aquadventure. Our taxi driver, Mary, took us to the Comfort Suites next door and we booked a room for the night that we weren't going to use, just to get wristbands for Aquadventure. This is about $140.00 cheaper that buying them from Atlantis. She waited, and then drove us around the corner to Atlantis. We walked through the casino (huge), and the lobby and shops until we reached the marine life tanks which lead to "The Digs" (incredible) and eventually out to the water park with all the slides and pools. The water park closed at 7 and the ship left at 10 so it worked out nice. It was expensive, but not much more than a Disney water park. We were there for almost 6 hours.
Finally, I have read some reviews being very critical, almost mean spirited, about the passengers on the Fascination. I was born and raised in the south and can go bubba when I need to. My wife was born on Long Island. With that being said, we never felt uncomfortable around anyone on board. Yes, there were a lot of southerners, I'd guess 80%, but good manners and hospitality were abundant. We made a lot of quick friends. Yes, some folks wore t-shirts and ballcaps to dinner, some maybe drank too much rum, but by and large it was a nice group of people. All the critics that trash the very casual attire and lack of what they think of as proper behavior, please choose another port to sail from, or a different cruise line.
This cruise was a bargain for the money and just a ton of fun for my family and me. We have already booked a 7-day cruise from Port Canaveral for next Easter vacation on the Carnival Dream. We're getting a balcony this time. Can't wait!
P.S.: Anyone with questions about taking 8 and 11 year old boys on a 5 day cruise, or any other questions about this cruise, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Go Gators!