My wife and I along with 10 members of her family embarked on a 5 night cruise on the Carnival Fascination Feb 27th - March 3rd.
We arrived at JAX airport at 11:00am the day of the cruise and utilized Carnival's deluxe coach transportation to the Carnival JAX Cruise Port. The cost is $15 per person each way which is about the same as a private taxi depending on traffic. Watch for the Carnival employee waiving a sign at the airport transportation centre. You do not have to pre-book this, the cost will be added to the on-board account. Arrived at the port around 11:30 and it took over an hour and half plus six requests for picture ID before boarding the ship. Carnival really needs to address handling this. Other cruise lines we have been on have not had this issue. The bottle neck was caused by security scanning. There were two scanners for the regular passengers and one exclusively for premium members. There was also a great deal of confusion dropping off luggage, better co-ordination with employees and security personnel is required. Upon boarding we headed to the Buffet on Lido Deck for lunch. As just about all passengers showed up the same time there were no tables to sit as everyone plunked there waiting for cabin availability.
Our Balcony Cabin E-98 (7th deck) was ready by 1:30. This ship was recently renovated and the balcony's were added during the last re-fit. The cabin was well appointed with a king size bed, plenty of closet space and drawers. TIP: bring a power bar or extension cord as there is only one plug in the vanity area. The bathroom was large compared to other ships we have been on with plenty of space in front of the large sink and shower. Everything was functional and appeared new. The balcony rooms are limited and well worth the nominal extra cost. There is room for 2-4 people depending on chair placement.
Instead of a sliding glass door there is a separate door and window. We never felt closed in at any time, the bed was comfortable with plenty of various pillows to suit all needs. We found no hairdryer, however they are available upon request. Our room attendant (can not remember his name) was excellent keeping the cabin clean several times daily and greeting us with a smile. All ship personnel went out of their way to greet us with smiles.
Our group opted for the 6:00pm dinner seating in the Sensation dinning room. Our waiter and assistants were very attentive providing excellent service. It was a nice touch to be greeted by name each evening. The food was on par with the other cruise lines we have used with a varied menu each day featuring specialty dishes or the usual "comfort foods" such as burgers, chicken, steaks etc. Deserts were also yummy and changed daily.
We used the Lido Buffet for both breakfast and lunch. Although selection seemed more limited than other cruise ships, there was usually something to eat other than the ever popular burgers and fries. Seating can be tricky especially at prime eating times so I would suggest breakfast before 8:30 and lunch before 12:00 or after 1:30 to avoid lineups and no tables. At the very back of the buffet there is a pizza and sandwich bar as an alternative to the mass produced typical buffet selection. Lemonade, coffee, tea and ice tea is offered free of charge as well as orange juice in the morning. If you like specialty coffees there is Starbucks type coffee bar on Deck 9, Mid.
As Carnival is less port intensive then the other cruise lines sea days are very relaxing but crowded around the pool area on deck 10. Activities are planned all day long to keep you entertained. Both hot-tubs and the pool are usually overcrowded especially with children. As an alternative I would suggest the adults only Serenity Deck at the rear of the ship on deck 9. It has two hot tubs and plenty of deck chairs.
The new slide at the top of the ship is a real rush for you water sport fans, one of the best ever on a cruise ship. There is also a 9 hole mini-put available inside the walking track.
Entertainment is a hit or miss most nights. There are only two Broadway type shows during the cruise and both are a must see. In addition there is an adult only comedy show in the Puttin on the Ritz theatre. Get there early as seats are at a premium. The cruise director Jen kept a pretty low profile which was nice not having her in your face constantly like on other cruise lines.
Both Key West and Nassau were good ports with plenty to see and do. Port times are a bit weird but workable. Plan to be on the top deck when departing Jacksonville to see just how close the smoke stack clears the bridge. The cruise down the river is also very entertaining.
Debarkation went very smooth. When our luggage tag number was read we were off of the ship and awaiting the airport bus in less than 15 minutes. If you are a non US citizen you are required to clear US Customs and Border Protection at 7:00am in the Passage to India lounge. Make sure you have your passport and US Immigration form filled out prior to lining up. You will also have to clear same upon picking up luggage and exiting the port terminal.
Although this was a long review, we tried to touch on several areas that make up most of your cruise experience. Please feel free to email me for any information.