My wife and I are in our late 30's, and this was our first cruise. Our daughter graduated high school two weeks prior then went to spend a week in California with my sister. We used this time for a much needed and well earned get away!
We began the process with Carnival having an issue with their website reading our reservation. It took them 2 weeks and many phone calls from us to fix it. It was rather frustrating and they never kept us informed and left us hanging as to whether or not it was fixed. It left a negative impression, but we let it go and still looked forward to the cruise itself.
We arrived in Jacksonville Friday, the day before the cruise. It was a 6 hour drive from where we live in NE Georgia. We stayed at the Best Western by the airport. The drive was a pleasant one, and the hotel was very easy to find. We paid $112 total which included leaving our car there for the duration of the cruise and shuttle service to and from the port. The hotel was fine. Just a basic room, nothing special. The staff was very helpful and friendly. If we were vacationing in Jacksonville we would choose another hotel, but since we were only there for approximately 16 hours, this hotel suited us just fine.
We were told to be in the lobby at 11am for the shuttle. We got there a little early and had to wait approximately 30 minutes. Then we were on the shuttle and off to the port.
Arriving at the port was very exciting, as we could see the ship before even pulling into the port. As first time cruisers, this was very exciting to us! It took approximately 1 hour to get from the port entrance onto the ship, but it did not feel like it at all. The lines were long but moved very quickly. We were on the Lido deck by 12:30. We weren't hungry, so we had a drink then walked around the ship. At 1:20 we decided to see if our room was ready. We lucked out and it was, though our luggage wasn't there yet. No big deal though as we didn't need it at that point.
They told us we had been "upgraded" from an interior to a port hole room. It was nice to be able to see out, but our room was literally the second room from the front of the ship so we felt a lot of movement. We were on the Riviera deck in R4. Our stateroom was nice. Nothing fancy but served its purpose. We weren't going for extravagance, as we knew we wouldn't be spending a lot of time in it. We decided that we would definitely be going for a balcony on our next cruise though. Our room attendant was excellent and my wife really enjoyed the towel animals. She was excited each night to see what new animal would be left for us. The bed was very comfortable, the room and bathroom were always clean, and the ice bucket was always filled. The towels were very absorbent but a bit rough - especially on sun burnt skin. We didn't ask a lot of our room attendant, but he quickly delivered what we did ask for. He always had a smile and a "Hello, how are you today?" when we saw him in the halls. One of the animals he made was a frog, so when we left an extra tip for him my wife folded it and put it in the frogs mouth to look like a tongue. lol
We ordered room service twice. The first time I had to call 5 times before someone answered the phone. Other than that they were very prompt and had our order there within 15 - 20 minutes.
Food - we never ate in the main dining room. We ate at Coconut Grove, the Mongolian Grill and had pizza once. For the most part the food was good. Never anything spectacular but ok. We both agree with the other review about things being warm that should be cool and vice versa. It was a bit disappointing as I had heard so many good things about their food. Over all it was just ok and we never went hungry. They could certainly improve in this area though.
Shows - we caught many of the shows and thoroughly enjoyed them. We also took part in a few events on ship. My wife placed 2nd in a slots tournament and won a hat, t-shirt, and a tote type bag. We also took part in a trivia contest on the Lido deck and won the coveted Ship on a Stick. The comedians were very funny but you only need to see them once as their act was the same each and every time. The one guy liked to drop the "f-bomb" a bit more than we cared for, but he was still funny. Some of the events in the Palace really cracked us up, and we had a lot of fun watching them! The only suggestion I could make here is to change up the comedians acts so you're not having to see the same thing every night.
Ports - Half Moon Cay was truly paradise! We loved it and never wanted to leave. We didn't have to wait long for a tender to take us there and had no wait at all for one to take us back to the ship. We didn't do any shore excursions but we snorkeled on our own and saw some really cool fish. We learned the hard way to invest in a cabana the next time we visit. The sun can be brutal! The breath-taking beauty and the fun we had there made up for it though! I can't attest to the food at HMC, as we ate once we got back on the ship. The staff was very friendly and familiar as they were the same staff from the ship. I would highly recommend HMC to anyone! It's a paradise you do not want to miss!
Nassau - we could have done without. Because of previous reviews we weren't even going to get off the ship but decided to do so as we had never been here before. We should have stayed on the ship. You couldn't walk 2 feet without someone in your face asking you to take a taxi, horse and buggy, scooter or ferry ride. The town looked dirty, traffic was very crazy and seemed to have no rhyme or reason to it, and someone tried to sell me marijuana as we walked to the Pirates Museum. The straw market was beyond disappointing and sold typical touristy crap that we could have found at a store in Florida. Needless to say the highlight of this port was seeing the Disney Dream docked two ships away. We ended up going back to the ship and swimming in the non-crowded pool. Unless you plan on doing shore excursions here, I would skip Nassau all together.
Pool - the pool was very small and stayed packed like a can of sardines. That was disappointing, as the only time we got to use it was for a bit when everyone else was in Nassau.
Staff - for the most part the staff was ok. Our room attendant, cruise director, and two other people were the only ones we saw who actually smiled and seemed happy to be there. No one went out of their way to help us and most looked as if they would rather be somewhere else. We were on vacation so we didn't let that phase us, but we certainly didn't experience the mega friendly staff Carnival boasts about having. I will say that Henni our cruise director was rather comical and very friendly!
Misc - we were often asked if we wanted a drink, but it wasn't problematic as I have heard others say. It was always different people who asked us, and they were just doing their job and serving their customers. When we said no they accepted that and moved on. So no problems there. We did purchase the endless bubbles as I drink a lot of soda. It was well worth the price, but I do agree with another reviewer who said the bar staff isn't very friendly when you ask them to fill your cup. I didn't care though, as I was on vacation!!!
The seas were gentle enough until the last morning. Thankfully my wife and I bought the patch to wear behind our ear and never had a bit of sickness. Our last morning we were woken up at 5am by the movement, as we were going through a storm. They announced that due to the storm we were 2 hours behind schedule, but we were called to disembark at 9am.
Disembarkment - We were allowed to stay in our room until 9am due to being late to arrive. We did the self assist and had just left our room at 9 when they called for our deck to disembark. It was a breeze and went very quickly. By 9:15 am we were on the shuttle and headed back to the hotel. It was kind of funny, as we ended up on the shuttle with the same people we shared the shuttle with on the way to the cruise.
Overall it was a good experience and left us bitten by the cruise bug, but it was a good experience moreso because WE made it that way and not because Carnival made it that way. We aren't bothered by much while on vacation, so we were able to overlook any of the negative and have an awesome time regardless. We will certainly cruise again, I just don't know if we will do so with Carnival or on the Fascination.