We were first-time cruisers and asked TONS of questions to our travel agent before taking this trip. First of all, we're a younger couple (mid 20's) and we traveled in February 2012, the off season for cruising. We got a really great deal on the price, didn't want to be on an overcrowded ship, and didn't mind taking a trip in late winter. Here are a few tips from my learning experience for the Carnival Fantasy:
- ALWAYS pay for the smallest, cheapest cabin. You do NOT need room to stretch out in your cabin... you will barely be there and it was bigger than I was told it was going to be... even the shower(which I was told was tiny). Trust me.
- If you don't really drink alcohol, don't start now!! You will have a hefty gratuity bill on your last night that you must pay before exiting the ship. For my husband and myself, our bill was almost $200, and we didn't drink any alcohol or pay for ANYTHING extra on the ship... so beware.. it's a nasty surprise. Since you are paying gratuity at the end, don't feel pressured to tip extra for anything. The gratuity includes the serving staff in the restaurant, your housekeeper, the bartenders if you drink, entertainment, photography staff, and any additional charges you incur.
- I would suggest bringing more clothes than you think you need. Most reviews will say to pack once, then take out half of it. I disagree. Between the clothes getting wet from the pool, hot tub, the saltwater... from sand, sweat, and just being wrinkled all the time, you will want extras... no one is going to want to pay the $6 a load to do laundry on the ship... plus all the detergent you have to buy. We went with 3 medium suitcases and were fine.
- Bring sunblock, sunglasses, hats, and other coverups... the sun is brutal.. especially around water... whether you are at a port or in the middle of the ocean.. even if it's cloudy.. we were sunburnt like crazy.
- Bring a few sweaters if you go in the off season like we did... it is quite windy at sea and can be overcast... I shivered a lot.
- Parking at the port is something YOU HAVE TO PAY!! I had no idea about this and my parking was $90!! Bad surprise.. and first surprise of the vacation. I wish someone would have told me that.
- Spend your money on excursions!!! This is where all the fun is! Do NOT just dilly dally around the little towns at each port, and do NOT just get wasted off the ship every chance you get. You want to EXPERIENCE the islands... In Key West, we went parasailing and did a high-speed jetski tour around the whole island. It was amazing and still had time to check out some of the shops. In Freeport, we took the Jeep tour, probably the best thing to do there. In Nassau, we splurged big time and did the Deep Water swim with the dolphins and spent the day at Atlantis... one of the best things I've done in my life. Spend your money on excursions... and get the pictures if they provide any!!
- I would suggest choosing the "Your time dining". You can eat when you want, as much as you want, and go back later in the evening and do it all over again. No limits as opposed to the set-time dining.. = boring.
- You will go through customs before you board the ship and after you leave the ship on the last day. They did not tell us ahead of time, but you are allowed to bring $800 worth of purchased items per person with you back home... I believe anything over that will be taxed, as well as alcohol and tobacco. You are allowed to bring 1 bottle of liquor back with you tax free.. anything extra you must pay taxes on... and the alcohol on board is CHEAP.. so if you like that stuff, go for it!
These are a few things I did NOT like about the FANTASY. I was truly disappointed about some things and maybe I can help out my fellow "mid 20's" people:
- Everyday you receive a schedule of events for the day...down to every hour from 7AM to 12midnight. Therefor, most activities only last an hour or less. I did not expect this!!! When it says "Electricity Nightclub", it's only open for an hour at a time and then you have to wait a few hours to get back in.So don't expect to be going clubbing all night. Or when it lists "Piano Bar", it is not a fun all night event like you would normally go to, it only lasts 30 min to an hour. We took dance lessons and were being rushed off stage after 25 minutes so they could set up for Bingo... yes, BINGO.
- There are A LOTTTTT of events for older folks that didn't interest the younger crowd at all. They played Bingo A LOT.. which you had to pay $20 for one card. They also filled up the schedule with completely immobile activities such as sitting around listening to "Soothing Sounds with Jimmy", or "Reading time in the Library", or "Tea time with Johnny". There were lots of times we had to get creative to stay busy on the Fantasy ship.
- There is only 1 pool and 3 hot tubs for the 2000-4000 guests on board.. which close at 11pm. The pool is salt water and not heated.. just to pre warn... and they didn't open til later in the first night of sailing. Nevertheless, they are still fun if you can squeeze in. :)
- There are people EVERYWHERE on the Fantasy trying to take your pictures. They are like vultures. You can say no if you'd like, and if you say yes, you can view and purchase your pictures in the "photo gallery".. but expect to pay gratuity at the end of your cruise for them. They all have different backdrops set up and some people are dressed up as characters around the ship... like pirates or dancers. Every time you get off the ship at a port, you will take at least 3 if not 4 pictures with these people. You don't take any when you get back on. Have fun with it if you like!! Some of the photos can turn out great and I saw a lot of people buying them!
-Like I mentioned earlier, the surprise of the gratuity bill at the end was shocking... so BE CAREFUL about spending extra money... spend it on excursions!!!! Trust me.
- The ship was small. The nightclub was very very small. The piano bar maybe only seated 30 people. I would have preferred if there were less bars (7 that I can think of right now), and more amenities and activities. Oh, and I was told there were other restaurants like a steakhouse and such... but there aren't.
- Freeport, one of our destinations, was kind of raggedy. It is industrial... oil storage and such... a very very poor island. I do NOT suggest going to the shops at this location.. All they see in Americans is $MONEY$. You will hear them say "Hello beautiful girl.. come look around.. let's make a deal.. All handmade!"... when in fact it's all from China and they all sell the same things. They are so impersonal, they don't even look at you when they talk... you have to say no thanks at least 5 times before they leave you alone. If you do decide to purchase something, never offer them full price.. NEVER. In Freeport, do an excursion!!! Get out near the water and away from shopping!!
To end my review on a good note, here are a few things I really liked about our trip on the Fantasy:
- The staff was GREAT!!! They were personable, multicultural with tags saying where they are from, and truly wanting you to have a great vacation. Every time I came back to my room, it was cleaned and made up.. multiple times a day. They worked hard and kept the ship extremely clean. I was impressed.
- I couldn't really tell that the ship was 20 years old... it looked really nice to me. Maybe needed some carpet updates here and there... but I really didn't mind any of it.
- The live music outside on the upper deck (when they played their hour of music). They kept it very "Caribbean-like" and had a dance floor.
- The FOOD in the Celebration dining room (your main dining room) was great restaurant quality food made by experienced chefs. We really enjoyed stuffing our faces almost every night there. :) Also, there is a buffet style eating called "Windows on the Sea" which had pizza, a deli, and really great salad bar, different ethnicity cuisine each night, and my favorite place.. "The Sweet Spot" with all types of fresh cakes and sweets. mmm!
- Key West was great because you were still dealing with Americans at this point... when you get to Freeport it's a whole different story. Nassau had the most beautiful water... get in it!!!
If you have ANY QUESTIONS about the Carnival Fantasy, please don't hesitate to ask me. I would not suggest this ship as your first cruise and I will not be returning to it.