Carnival Fantasy is like your favorite pair of jeans or an old pair of sneakers -- a little worn out but so comfortable you just keep coming back to them. Sure, the ship appears broken-in and shows its age in some spaces -- I mostly noticed this in the cabins -- but that's easily overlooked in light of its friendly, welcoming atmosphere. And it's just plain comfortable, from bed linens and pillows to deck chairs and dress code. Not to mention that its muted color scheme, compared with some of its sister ships, is very easy on the eyes. Dark bluish-purple tones in the elevator lobbies and on the first floor of the Grand Atrium exude a calming vibe, while nearby cabin hallways are unobtrusively cheerful with their bright, cream-colored walls.
Even better, thanks to Carnival's fleetwide $350 million "Evolutions of Fun" initiative (a designer patch on those old jeans, if you will), this 20-year-old vessel now looks less than half its age. During a 2008 dry dock, the ship was spruced up with cabin upgrades (including flat-screen TV's), a new water park and expanded dining options. Carnival Fantasy even looks more trendy and modern, with cabins furnished in reds and golds, and dining rooms accented with plush chairs and soft white lights. And while the ship still doesn't have all the amenities of its younger siblings, the upgrades offer something new and fresh for passengers and keep the ship attractive to cruise travelers.
Beyond the hardware, what really stood out on my sailing was the service. From our room steward and waiters, to the folks at Guest Services, every single crewmember onboard seemed to want me to have the trip of a lifetime, and all other passengers with whom I spoke agreed. On embarkation day, our room steward stopped by to introduce himself and called us by name every single time we bumped into him afterward. During dinner, our waiters, Thanet and Djedje Idi, asked us about our trip and made a point of remembering our nightly preferences to better anticipate our needs -- two dishes of ice cream instead of one, a pina colada with dessert, water instead of iced tea. And when I couldn't decide which of three soups I'd like best, they brought me one of each!
Another plus for Carnival Fantasy: It's the first -- and currently the only -- ship to sail out of Charleston. Out-of-towners will find that this friendly port city can make for a great pre- or post-cruise stay, while locals will find it to be an easy drive-to cruise experience (which would explain why there were so many Southerners on our sailing).