July 14th cruise
Precruise hotel - We stayed at the Best Western Airport. Used Priceline. The hotel was ok but the general airport area is fine and only about 15 minutes from the port. You can shop and find a good hotel deal in the vicinity.
Parking and Embarkation;
Parked with Jax Park N Cruise- $10 for the full cruise and door to door service. Their people were great and they all wear purple shirts and are easy to find. Don't forget to tip because these guys will take the luggage from your car and put it right back in. They are 10 minutes from the Port near the Holiday Inn express. We got to their location at 10:30 and within 5 minutes we were in their van heading to the terminal. We were dropped off 10 yards from the main door. Rolled our luggage across and were inside the terminal by 11:00. Check in with Carnival took about 15 minutes and we were on-board by 11:30.
Fascination- Ship looks great and clean. The port terminal building seems to be temporary so you enter the ship on the bottom gangway. Not a glamorous entry but efficient. If you are mobile don't wait for the elevator just walk up the steps and start exploring. Fantasy class ships are fun to explore and navigate. They are also a little quirky. Get a map in the main lobby.
Food- The lido was already serving lunch and we loved the design of the Coconut Grove. I am a foody and love to eat and I can honestly say that Carnival does not serve gourmet food but the majority of it is pretty darn good. Occasionally their might be some dry chicken or fish but sample, look around, and try different things and you will be happy. Lido food was ethnic themed and the grill outside offered burgers, fries, and an awesome carving station and Mongolian grill. Come early or dine a little later and your will miss most lines. We ate first seating in the Main Dining Room and enjoyed our excellent service and 7 other table mates. The Dining Room food is still very good. Ribs were awesome, Indian specialties were great, lobster was very sweet. Not as much steak as on previous cruises but Flat Iron Steak, Mahi Mahi, and Caesar Salad were options nightly. Jacksonville port must attract some classy cruiser. I saw no jeans or tea shirts in the dining room. On formal night the people enjoyed dressing and looked great in suits and ties! Only complaint was the Pizza Chef on the lido decked seemed clueless. The line was always backed up. Yo, Pizza guy. Just start cooking some pies. Trust me people will come and eat them.
Ship- Putt putt was fun. Track was great. We enjoyed the Waterworks while in Freeport and had a blast. You're never to old for this stuff. Workout gym was clean and had all the basics. Yes you will be asked to buy drinks and take pictures all the time. Just smile and say no thank you and life is good. I think we paid $5 for specialty beers and we bought two daily drink special for about $7. The drinks were very good and competively priced compared to off the ship. The outdoor bar offers themed pool glasses everyday. I still wish I bought the Blowfish! Pretty funny.
Shows- We thought they were two of the best we have seen. The dancers were enthusiastic and the choreography was amazing. The Main show was named the 80s and it was great to finally get shows themed with more modern music. The Newlywed game needs upgrading and the regular poolside entertainment needs an overhaul for a multi cruiser. Belly flops, chicken dance, hairy chest, all getting a little old. Oh, dont forget to see the break dancers. They are amazing. The one dude spins on his head for about 2 minutes. The Cruise Director was also pretty funny and these guys usually drive me crazy. The staff on this ship just seem sincere and not going through the motions.
Pool- Small but clean, Jacuzzis on Serenity were great.
Casino- I lost money. Some noticeable smoking. Fun but one of these days I would like to win some bucks. :)
Room- We booked an inside cabin 3 days before the cruise. It was clean and plenty of room for two people. It did smell musty on occasion but we couldn't figure out why because everything looked brand new. Our room steward was good but he was a little forgetful. He forgot our customs forms and baggage tags our last night but the room was always clean and furnished with great towel animals.
Disembark- We chose to carry our own bags. We woke up, ate breakfast and watched some Dolphins playing in the river. Grabbed our luggage on the Riviera deck and were allowed to go first with self disembark and we rolled off the ship. Quick customs check and Park N Cruise was waiting at the door. Back to car in 10 minutes where it was safe and secure. I think we were on the interstate by 10:00.
Summary- I was concerned about the value of a 4 day cruise but I would highly recommend it to anyone needing a value get a way. If you like cruising or this is your first cruise, you will like this ship. Cruising down the Jacksonville River is very scenic as well and takes some time. I would still like to try more cruise lines but Carnival keeps putting their ships everywhere making it really easy. :)