On this cruise were my DH and me, with another couple. We are all low 40's -- we're from Long Island, NY; they are from Northern NJ. We arrived in Florida a couple of days before our cruise to visit relatives (and leave the kids there - it was our first cruise without them). We used Larry's Limo to get to the port. Larry was very professional and his driver was pleasant and on-time (in both directions). I would use them again. http://www.larryslimo.com/
We had VIP check-in as we had a Cat 11 cabin. We got to the port early (about 10:45 am). Even though there was hardly any line, we were whisked into a beautiful office to fill out a couple of forms (already had Fun Passes), then we were on our way up to get our S&S cards and keys (separate on this ship). We had to wait till about 11:30 or 11:40 to board -- no big deal. Once we were on-board, we walked around to check out the ship (cabins not ready yet) and I, of course, took some pictures. Then, went to Lido Deck for lunch. Once we were done with that, our cabin was ready (around 1:30).
We were on the Verandah Deck (V15). The cabin, as the rest of the ship, was in excellent condition. It was basically the same as a standard balcony cabin on the larger ships (that we are used to) except for the following:
- Flat screen tv (which was nice to have, plus it seemed to allow for extra room around the bed)
- Balcony was smaller! Had to re-arrange the chairs to get comfortable out there, even just to read
- Bathroom had nicer sink, but it took away from shelf space
I should mention a few things -- there was no hair dryer in the cabin (I brought my own, so I didn't even ask the cabin steward for one), there was one general outlet in the cabin and one (just for shavers?) in the bathroom. That's it. Big deal - I couldn't heat my hot iron while I dried my hair. Not a disaster. I always bring a travel clock -- not a surprise to people who have cruised before but something to be aware of for first-timers who expect the same amenities as in a hotel room.
Here's where I will put in kudos for our cabin steward Iwona ("Yvonne") from Poland. She was so nice and took great care of our room. Kept our ice bucket filled morning and night. (We tipped her extra at the end, not at the beginning of the cruise.)
While DH thinks I spend too much time on CC, he was thrilled to learn that he could bring soda on-board (carried on in his backpack with no problem at all). He prefers Dr. Pepper and Diet Pepsi to Mr. Pibb and Diet Coke. He didn't buy a soda card this time and was happy to have the soda in the cabin when he wanted some. (No cost to Carnival as I made up for this in the various bars!)
As anyone knows who sees my posts, we are way into the piano bar! It was on the floor below the main promenade (unfortunately not attracting a lot of traffic), but James, the piano player, works hard to get the place going (with varying results). I wrote a lot more about this on the Piano Bar Player thread (http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showt...362780&page=29 -- post #563).
The best entertainment, by far, on this ship is the rock band, Music Asia. They play in the Passage to India lounge and are absolutely amazing if you like 70's rock and roll. Stones, Zepellin, Bob Seger, etc. Their Free Bird was just unbelievable. We danced there every night (except the night they were on the Lido Deck-- where they started off playing such slow music that we couldn't stay). They will be on the ship until July 1.
We only went to one show -- the 80's show (by recommendation of previous Fascination cruisers on CC). It was pretty good. I'm glad we had late seating and went before dinner. I wouldn't have wanted the show to interfere with my Music Asia time!
Our tablemates went to the late-night comedy one night (Wed night?); they left after a half-hour. Said he wasn't so funny. Used lots of profanity and that didn't make it funny either. I was glad I didn't make it a point to go there.
The Cruise Director was Danny Blake. We didn't see him much, as we didn't go to any of the shows till the last night. Our last cruise was with John Heald, and the two seem to have opposite personalities. It was no big deal to us at all. Similarly, John's asst. CD on Liberty last year was Butch (or Bruce?) -- very outgoing, fun personality. The asst CD on Fascination -- don't know his name -- was not as outgoing (at least on the day he led Battle of the Sexes), but maybe he was just having a bad day.
We were in the late seating (8:30 pm) in the Sensation dining room. Had requested a table for 4, but we were assigned to a table with 2 other couples (table 123). I told my DH that I could ask for a change, but he said not to bother. I was happy to meet other people and they turned out great. We had a lot of fun with them at dinner.
Our head waiter, Vishnu, was excellent. He provided quality service, without being intrusive. Always bringing second dinners, another appetizer, extra vegetables. Nothing was a big deal for him. We loved the way he said "please" every time he put a new plate of food in front of us. Our bar waitress at dinner, Nikki, was also great. (How convenient that she was also the bar waitress in the piano bar!). I got to know her throughout the four days, and she provided excellent service.
The food on this cruise was much better than I remember it being on Liberty last February. Some of the highlights:
Main dishes -- lobster tails (order 2 for sure), seafood newburg, penne with seafood-- all were excellent. Others liked the veal chops and prime ribs (I'm not into red meat)
Appetizers -- shrimp cocktail available every night! don't miss the stuffed mushrooms
Dessert -- warm melting chocolate also available every night! it is sinful! I had it twice (when is my weight watchers meeting??)
Other Food Comments
We didn't go to the dining room at all for breakfast or lunch. I still love the omelet station at the buffet for breakfast and the pizza for lunch. My friends loved, loved, loved the deli. The ice cream/yogurt station is in a different place on this ship (in the back, not on the sides like on the bigger ships) so it took me a couple of days to find it (good thing). My friends (the first time cruisers) were overall very impressed with the food.
Our first stop was Key West. I awoke at 7:30 am and we were already docked. I saw some people getting off the ship, but it was way too early! We had breakfast and got off around 9 or so. Decided on the Conch Train Tour to start, so we could see the island and get some history (and we were way too tired to walk or bike!). This turned out to be a good idea. The guide was a little corny (so we got some laughs), but we did get to see what KW has to offer and learn about everything. I think you could have taken this tour as a Carnival excursion for $29; our tickets were $25. There was no wait for tickets, so probably no real advantage booking it ahead of time. We took a 9:40 train and were done by 11:15. This left time to shop on Duval St and make our stop at Margaritaville, where we had exceptional margaritas and tried the Key Lime Pie (yum!). The Bull had an Elvis impersonator singing as early as 12 noon (and they have open sides so you can hang out and watch from the sidewalk). We had to be back on the ship by 1:30-- we almost had enough time there. I could have used another hour to shop (or maybe have a 3rd margarita). Anyway, it was a really fun day and we crashed when we got back to the ship.
The next day, we got to Cozumel. This was my 3rd time there and first time I had to tender. The weather was great (sat out on the deck on the ship in the morning) and we got to Coz by about 12:30. They started tendering the Carnival excursion people at about 12:45... and that took an hour! Since we got #9, our number wasn't called till about 2:30. We were at Paradise Beach (CC recommendation) by 3:15 pm. It was pretty crowded but we easily found lounge chairs and an umbrella near the bar. (Margaritas there were pretty good, too!) If our kids were there, they would have liked the water trampoline, banana boats and climbing wall in the water. But, since they weren't there, no need to buy the recreation pass! It was only a $12 taxi ride to this beach (plus tip) and no entrance fee. What a deal! (For first time cruisers -- when getting a price from a cab driver, it's a good idea to confirm ahead of time if that's per person or for the whole car. In Coz, there is a sign in the port that tells you the cost to every beach, but it's still a good idea to double-check. We've had cab drivers in other places in the Caribbean try to rip us off; but since we're assertive NYers with NYC cab experience, we do whatever we can to make sure this does not happen.)
Back to Cozumel... after a couple of hours at Paradise Beach, we went back to Puerta Maya to shop. The plaza seems to be coming back to life, but the hurricane damage is still apparent. I can't believe how the storm ripped away the pier! Not surprisingly, Ron Jon looks untouched (I'm sure they had the money to rebuild the quickest). The souvenir shops are back in full force, but they are still working on things. After the drinks on the beach, I didn't want to chance having more in the port. Figured I'd wait till dinner, at least!
Tendering to get back on the ship was about the only time all week when I saw crowds. At first there was a very long line that snaked around the plaza, but when the tender arrived, the line disappeared and everyone just pushed forward. Definitely not a Disney organized line. It wasn't a big deal to me, but if my kids were with me, I might have been a little concerned.
When I booked this cruise and saw that we'd be in Cozumel from 1-8 pm, I though it would be plenty of time. But, we got off the tender at about 3 pm and had to be back at the port by 7 pm -- that's really too short. I love Cozumel and could stay at the beach all day. It was a little rushed and disappointing. We'll be in Cozumel for the entire day during our February cruise and it looks like we'll be docking (yay). If I were doing the half-day thing again, I might consider a ship excursion (like the ATV on the beach, which one of our tablemates did); this way you can off the ship first and get on with your activity.
I was ready to relax for a day at sea (in the sun) before getting back to the kids and relatives. The weather was perfect (and I got a lounge chair fairly easily on the deck above the pool around 9:30), till the clouds came around 10:30 am. We stayed outside another 30-45 minutes... then it got too windy, cool, cloudy, and even a little rainy on and off. I read on my balcony for a while and got involved with Battle of the Sexes (I know a lot of random sports facts, so I love this -- I always get some answers that the men are surprised I know!).
One chair hog story from the morning -- even though I got my chair easily, there was a teenager who was looking for chairs for her family. I noticed that the lounge chairs next to me had been empty (except for Carnival beach towels) for about 45 minutes so I told her she should just take them (fold the towels and leave them there). She took a couple of the chairs over to where she was and her family joined her. I was reading my book but, about 1/2 hour later, I heard the people come back and wonder -- "who would do such a thing." I'm sure it would have been a bigger deal if the weather was nicer. But saving chairs is really a huge dilemma. There are signs, but absolutely no one enforcing them. Most people think that this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do to make sure you get the lounge chairs you need for you or your family. If Carnival wants to stop this, they have to make more of an effort. Otherwise, the chair hogs win and the polite people have no chairs. (My next cruise is on RCCL; will be curious as to how they handle it.)
When we awoke on Friday, we were already docked in Miami. I heard them call for self-disembark starting at 6:45 am. We took our time getting up and having breakfast (none of us were heading for the airport). At about 8:40 am, they announced that all passengers could leave the ship. We left when we were done with breakfast (around 9:10 am) and it was the easiest disembark ever. We got down to the luggage area and our suitcases were sitting there, by themselves, all lonely. We just grabbed them and headed for customs, which was also quick. Larry's Limo was there to get us at 9:30 am.
A few thoughts on the ship...
I can totally understand how some people are more comfortable on the smaller ships. There were less crowds (much less crowds) and a lot less walking (especially from where our cabin was). Personally, my DH and I like the bigger ships better. More shops, more lounges, more people.
I was expecting a bit of a party ship, as this was a 4 day cruise, but it really wasn't. Wondering if that's because it left on Christmas Day. Since I was cruising without my kids for the first time, I was always looking for a party (and had to make my own!).
The refurbishment -- everything was clean and beautiful, including the fitness center, mini-golf, dining room, hallways, lounges. I don't know what a worn ship looks like, but this ship was in great condition.
Kids on the ship -- I thought there would be so many that I would miss my own. Nope. Only one night we ran into a bunch of kids playing a wild game on the lido deck at night (just being kids). Other than that, it didn't seem like there were a lot of kids at all. (We didn't go to the Christmas show the first night -- not our holiday -- but I'm sure they were all there.)
Would I do this cruise again? This cruise was perfect for what we wanted: a quick short cruise from a southern Florida port during Christmas week. And, it was a good first experience for our friends (who definitely want to cruise with us again -- either just the couples, during a non-holiday week, or with the kids next year Christmas week). But, we will stick to the larger ships -- Conquest, Valor, Liberty -- when we cruise on Carnival again. Our next cruise is on RCCL as we want to try something different (we loved how it felt walking onto a cruise ship for the first time!) with different activities and different decor, etc.
Photos are still to come. I will post a link here when it they are up on-line. I also kept the Capers in case anyone wants them. I can scan and post (or email).
I want to extend a big THANK YOU to CJW and RACEGRRL for all the information they have posted on CC about Fascination.
If anyone has any other questions, ask away!