I have cruised 4 times now, all with Carnival, so I knew exactly what to expect. This was the first time we took our son along, and he is 2 years old, so that came with some challenges. Also, we had both sets of parents along making for a total of 7 of us. I'll break up my review into areas of interest:
This went smoothly for us. We arrived at about noon and were on the ship by 1 pm. We were allowed to carry on any size bag with us as long as it went through the scanner...unlike in Charleston where we were forced to check our large bag. So, we were happy with that flexibility. My son threw a fit on having to put his backpack through the machine...but then, he's 2.
It was great that our cabins were close together, and we had planned it that way. I was surprised by how having the upper bunk opened did not really affect the space in the room. Also, not having an outside view (for the first time) I also was pleased that we really did not miss it much. My husband's parents had a porthole so it was nice to be able to go check out the view in their room. But, for the cost difference, I'd do an interior room again. I did find a few stray hairs on the linens in the bedding and on the towels in the bathroom...not something I usually see on Carnival. Our steward, I Wan, was helpful and friendly.
As always, the restaurant is my favorite place to eat. We had great waiters, Jorge and Randy, from the Philippines. They were awesome and memorized our names after the first night. They made a big deal out of my and my mom's shared birthday party on the formal night. We had a Carnival cake - ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS and worth the $11 for the cake. It rivaled the melting cake...The restaurant was not a great place for my son but my dad did not like the food there and preferred the buffet as he could get what he wanted. So most nights he took my son there and spared us from dealing with 2-year old whims. I wish the table magician would spend more time at various tables doing magic. We saw his show one night but then he never came to our table in the restaurant.
We did not use it...the only complaint I had is on a previous cruise I was told that I could come in and play with the toys with my son if I wanted to stay with him. Well, I tried this on the first sea day with my son and was told that I could only drop him off and not use the toys with him at all. That was disappointing because I wanted time with him, and there is not much else to play with on the ship. At least let the parents come in and interact with their kids and give them some free play time. As it was a family vacation I was not interested in just dropping off my son for hours...I wanted time with him. Instead we found lots of fun playing mini golf, riding glass elevators, dancing to on deck music, and sorting rocks that he collected in the two ports.
Like other Carnival ships, we thought the shows were terrific. The "Far From Over" 80's show was awesome! I wish we could buy DVDs of their shows...we love them. The male singer was excellent at both singing and dancing. The talent show was fun. My mom, mother-in-law, and I sang in the show which was really awesome. Jen talked with us on stage and made us feel like we had done a great job! The comedy I heard (one show) was funny. The only issue was that the karaoke host was just not very fun or interesting. He basically said "Well done" to each person. The break dancers in the show were awesome!
In Freeport, we took a shore excursion to try and please everyone. It was with Calabash Eco Adventures. We went to the beach, and my husband and I snorkeled. This was at Paradise Cove. The snorkeling was really fun and a better experience with this than I've had before. We got to use better equipment than we had in Cozumel and had a much smaller group, only 3 of us plus the guide. The only problem was jellyfish all around. They are beautiful but then you have to try and avoid them, which was difficult sometimes when we saw hundreds! I got what I thought was a tiny sting but it wasn't bad at all.
This went extremely smoothly. We did the assisted debark where Carnival took our bags off. I haven't done than since 1999, but I was very pleased with how it went. Our number was called before we expected it and out luggage was easy to find. The shuttle we took to the airport was prompt. We had stayed one night on departure at the Fairfield Inn JAX Airport which came with shuttle service of only $20/round trip per person. That is a much better deal than Carnival's transfer.
I used the track one day, the treadmills 2 days, and the steam room once. I had never tried the steam room before but really enjoyed it, and it was free. I did not use the spa services, but I really wanted to. It's just a little too expensive for us. The fitness equipment was in great shape and fun to use, a lot better than what I have at home.
The weather was odd leaving Jacksonville, very cold. I never even got in my swimsuit on the ship due to the wind and cool temperatures for the whole cruise. Two nights and one morning it was very rough sailing. This was by far my most rough sailing cruise I have been on. But, no one really got sick thanks to ginger pills and some medicine we got for my mom from the ship. Everyone enjoyed the trip and had a great time, for a great price, from Carnival and the great staff on Fascination.