After a tough start getting to FL due to Hurricane Irene, we boarded the Carnival Fascination on Monday, 8/29 for our 5-night cruise out of Jacksonville. Embarkation was easy and the lines moved quickly. We brought our allotted 2 bottles of wine per person through security and were on our way.
Lunch is only served on the Lido Deck the first day (the Main Dining Room is closed until dinner), so it was pretty crowded but we found a table, ordered a bucket of beer and had some lunch. The buffet was fine and we also tried the pizza (good) and the deli (a nice variety of sandwiches and paninis).
Our group consisted of 4 adults and my son, age 4. We had basic oceanview cabins on Deck 5, midship (I think they were a category 6A). We were able to get into our cabins around 1:30pm and our bags arrived by 3:30 or so. For 3 in a cabin, we had the 2 beds pushed together as one and then a bunk that pulled down from the wall (when down, it left an awkward spot were you had to crouch under it to get around the regular bed - a real back breaker). My 4 year loved it however (especially b/c he could leap onto our bed from up top!).
Our cabin guy wasn't the greatest. The first thing he told us was that his hours were 9-noon and 6-midnight (basically if you needed anything in between those times, you were out of luck). In contrast, my parents had a great guy, Yogi, just down the hall so it must just be luck of the draw. Our cabin was spacious enough. Bathrobes were in the closet and there were plentiful amenities in the bathroom (but no hair dryer). The water pressure in the shower was terrible but at least it was hot.
The layout of the ship took a little getting used to. The mid-ship elevator doesn't go all the way to the top so you had to plan your trips a bit. There are plenty of common areas and everything was always very clean. I liked that when you got off the elevator, they had huge "ODD" & "EVEN" signs to indicate which side your cabin was on. This was my 15th cruise and this was first time I've seen this.
This ship had plenty of activities (Trivia, Bingo, multiple contests, live music, etc). The mini-golf course was cute but it was often too windy up there to have a real game. The Water Slide area was nice, several choices for all ages.
As always, prime seating by the pool was tough to come by but we were always able to find a spot on one of the upper decks. There is only one main pool and it was always quite full with both kids and adults. The hot tubs were always filled to capacity - never got a chance to get in one.
We only caught brief minutes of the nightly shows (we just never seemed to eat at the right time) but they all looked/sounded great. My parents went to the Adult Comedy show one night and really enjoyed it.
We usually sail Celebrity or NCL and the selections here were well below the quality found on the other lines. Technically the food itself was OK, but not enough variety or creativity. The breakfast buffet was the worst - powdered scrambled eggs, no muesli or fresh toppings for the oatmeal, no berries of any kind and basically the exact same choices every day. They did have an omelet station at the grill out by the pool but that was the only customizable item. Lunch was a little better but with limited choices on the buffet and the same selections of pizza (with a long wait) and sandwiches each day. I highly recommend the MDR for breakfast - the Eggs Benedict were delish.
We selected "Anytime Dining" for dinner & it worked out great. We never had to wait for a table and were able to have the same wait staff on several evenings. The menu was just OK. I felt like I was eating at a Fridays vs a fine dining establishment (you can actually get the Spinach & Artichoke Dip every night), but overall it worked. They did serve lobster tail on the one formal night so that was a treat. And the Chocolate Melting Cake is a must for dessert. 24hr ice cream at the buffet is also a plus.
Attire in the dining room was a big mix - everything from shorts to suits. My husband wore a collared or Hawaiian shirt each night with long shorts and sandals (black pants on the formal night) and I wore an array of sundresses. Much easier to pack for than other cruises we've been on but some of the outfits we saw were disappointing.
My mom & I enjoyed a few spa treatments - make sure you wait for one of the specials as the regular prices are ridiculous. We took one yoga class (for $12 and then they ask for a gratuity!) and it wasn't very good. They also had Spinning Classes and some kind of boot camp. The gym itself looked to have a pretty good variety of machines and weights.
CAMP CARNIVAL (Kid's Club)
My son is 4 (almost 5) and spent a few hours here the first day. He had fun but didn't really want to go back. His age group was 2-5 so he was on the older end of the scale. They never left the one small room and there weren't any climbing/ball pit/slide type apparatus that he's enjoyed on other ships. His other disappointment was that they didn't have any Leapster or Nintendo type games (I'm guessing they did in the older groups). On other ships/cruise lines, he also liked going for ice cream, scavenger hunts, etc - I'm assuming the age group structure didn't allow it this time. One thing that was nice was that you could watch them from the doorway on a video screen without them seeing you if you wanted to check in on them. ?
1st STOP - KEY WEST
Our first stop was Key West where we basically just shopped our way down Duval Street, made it to the Southern-most point and walked back. We've been here several times before so we didn't need to do the usual sightseeing. For first-timers, I highly recommend The Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (www.keywestbutterfly.com) and of course a trip to Hemmingway's House.
2nd STOP - NASSAU
Our 2nd stop was Nassau and we've also been here several times so we chose to just do a beach day. We ended up just walking over to The British Colonial Hilton and purchasing their Day Pass. It was $55 per person and included a $30pp voucher to be used towards food or drink in any of their restaurants. It also included towels so there was no need to bring ours from the ship. The beach was really nice - white sand, clear, calm water. There were plenty of beach chairs and a few palapas. The pool is also nice - plenty of chairs there as well. The hotel is beautiful - very well maintained with and old charm about it. It wasn't very crowded while we were there but it was just after the hurricane and there were only 2 ships in port so I'm not sure if that made the difference.
A FEW TIPS...
When pulling out of Jacksonville, head to the front of the ship - we saw tons of dolphins swimming along the bow. It's windy, but worth it.
If you bring wine on-board, they will charge you a corkage fee to drink it in the Dining Room. Each night, we brought a bottle up on deck, got wine glasses from one of the bars and enjoyed a glass or two before heading to the Main Dining Room with one full glass to drink with dinner. Don't forget a corkscrew!
And bring a power strip if you have a lot of items that need charging. There was only 1 outlet in our room (right next to the bed).
We did see people bringing large quantities of soda & water on board at embarkation so that does seem to be allowed without any kind of limit. Do not try and bring any kind of alcohol back on board from the ports with the intention of drinking it during the cruise, they will take it and you don't get it back until the morning you leave.
This is a decent cruise if you want a cheap, quick getaway. Overall, the staff was friendly and accommodating. Our biggest complaint was the food. If it's your first cruise, you probably won't be disappointed. If you've cruised before (especially on other cruise lines), there will be a few things that are rather disappointing. Our trip was a surprise for my mom's birthday and they live in Jacksonville so it was easy but I probably won't be sailing on Carnival again any time soon. Any questions, feel free to email me - firstname.lastname@example.org.