This was our 3rd cruise; the 1st on Carnival, the 1st w/kids (daugher 11, son 8). We paid less for the four of us than we did for the two of us 10 years ago on another cruise line, and having read the mixed reviews about the Fantasy, we didn't have the greatest of expectations. We just wanted to have a fun "family" vacation that would please all of us. Well, we were very surprised that this cruise exceeded our expectations in almost every aspect. We found it to be a relaxing, fun, fabulous vacation and a real value. The complaints we have are few and shouldn't weigh in heavily in a decision to sail the Fantasy. Also, we took the 4 nite Sunday - Thursday cruise, the weekend cruise might be different in some respects (more singles, couples, different schedules, activities, etc).
We flew into Orlando and picked up our luggage at 10:45am. There were three people with Carnival signs at baggage claim to direct you to the Mears shuttle ($15 p/person one way). We did not get transfers ahead of time, we thought we would check out the taxi's and other options but Mears was definitely the least expensive. There were 3 Mears busloads loading ahead of us so we waited in line untill 11:20 to get on the next shuttle. The ride was only 40 minutes but the last 15 minutes of our bus ride was a grueling tale of woe about how the porters make "no money at all" and how we should tip them because of this. When we got off the bus a very animated porter was at the bus door shouting in all of our ears, "I'm your porter! Support your porter! I'm your porter! You all need to tip me NOW!" It was quite funny actually but quite annoying to a lot of passangers. We found out from other families we spoke to that they endured an entire 40 minutes of this non-stop "pressure" tip lecture on their bus. So, bring a walkman!
Arrived at Port Canaveral 12:00. There was a super long line to check in but it was very organized and efficient and moved very quickly. Carnival definitely has the best embarking process. We handed the staff our paperwork, showed our passports/birth certificates for the kids, showed our credit card. We carried on 2 bottles of champagne and 2 bottles of wine, wrapped in bubble wrap in a small carryon. I was also armed with a printed copy of the new liquor policy from the Carnival Senior Internet Specialist that I got from the message boards. I noticed they gave the couple in front of us a hard time about their wine until the couple asked to speak to a supervisor. They let the couple through and didn't even question us. DO NOT forget your corkscrew! Seems the Carnival staff has "convenient" memory about their new liquor policy. Short term memory loss maybe? We boarded the ship at 12:45 and were given our room keys and sail and sign cards. We were in a quad outside cabin (2 uppers for the kids) E-199, Empress Deck, rear of ship. Lunch is being served on the Lido deck until 3:30.
Whenever we cruise I am always shocked by the close quarters when we first open the cabin door. But I must say the cabin was quite roomy, even w/2 uppers. The large window instead of a small porthole was great. The bedspreads and curtains were very worn. The carpeting appeared to be newer and clean. Cabin/bathroom were neat and clean. There is a desk w/mirror and stool, chair and small round table, corner built in table and tons of storage. When I started unpacking for a family of 4 that evening, I couldn't belive all the storage space there was. Large suitcases fit under the beds easily. It's very well designed. There must have been 6 ft. of shelving in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Two robes and soap were provided. DO remember to bring extra hangers and an "octopus" outlet (one outlet in cabin). The bathroom was nice and roomy w/room for 2 in the shower. The shower curtain was also worn. All in all we were quite happy w/it and especially it's location near the Camp Carnival playrooms for the kids. We were concerned about noise from the Jubilee dining room above us but it was very quiet and we never heard a thing. I will say we did feel some vibration when docking and pulling out but only for 5 minutes or so. DO bring spray air freshener as our cabin steward had a terrific problem with body odor one day and we were too embarrassed to tell him. There are safes in all the cabin closets. We went to the pursers desk and paid $40 for a key to the safe which you get back when you return the key.
Josico was awsome and wonderful w/the kids. Chocolates on the pillows every nite, two big chocolate chip cookies w/happy faces on them for the kids one nite, elephant made of towels one nite, bunny rabbit. He always kept our wine chilled and the cabin picked up and clean. There is no ice machine so remember to tell your steward to keep you stocked w/cubes if you wish. With anything on this cruise, all you have to do is ask and it will be done. He even called me one day to tell me my son was on TV doing the YMCA dance and how funny it was and to turn it on.
I had read many trip reports that complained about the elevators and this problem still exists. The first day there were 3 out of 4 working elevators at each bank of elevators. by the third day there was only 1 operating in each bank. The Empress Deck was really convenient in this respect. We just had one or two flights of steps to whereever we were headed. I wouldn't recommend decks lower than the Empress if you have trouble with stairs.
We had lunch on the Lido deck the first day which is cafeteria-like and was OK. We decided we would eat in the dining room whenever we could. Although we all did really enjoy the 24-hour pizzeria on the Lido deck that had wonderful pizzas, calzones, ceasar salads etc. You can bring any of these to your cabin if you wish.
The registration meeting and tour was at 2:10 but we missed it since we were still lunching. We stopped in at the Camp Carnival playroom later that night and it took all of 5 minutes for the counselor to explain how the whole program works, get the kid schedules and to fill out a registration form so I would skip this meeting if you have something more fun to do. The playroom is for 2 to 5 year olds, the teen room (directly across the hall) is for 9-12, and the 6-8's sort of float between them both depending on the activity. My 8 yr old loved using the 5 nintendo 64's (free) in the teen room. The arcade in the rear of the disco was another favorite haunt. On the last nite of the cruise they deliver a bag to your child w/all their artwork, a growth chart, yoyo, ship puzzle, ship T-shirt the kids color themselves and memory book Carnival makes by taking pictures of the children during activities that week and copying them in a book - I was very impressed. Most of the kids activities are videoed by the staff and are playing on channel 6, which, unfortunately we could not get in our cabin. Keep in mind if you want some "alone" time, alot of the activities on Wednesday (sea day) are "family" activities where the counselors direct activities, they do not watch the kids, you have to be there too. So take advantage of some "private" time on Monday and Tuesday. There is a slumber party (babysitting) for all ages every nite from 10pm - 3am ($5 first child/$3 siblings/per hour). Kids 9 and up and sign themselves in and out (although they had my daughter call me to let me know where she was going which I really appreciated). The Family Welcome Aboard Party helped get the kids acquainted. The kids talent show was so great and the Farewell Party was a favorite too. The kids really liked to wind down with their "movie nite" from 7-9 then a pizza/ice cream party 9-10.
Main Dinner Seating (6:00):
If you have the main seating as we did because of the kids, BE SURE to pack a separate carry-on with your dinner clothes for the first night!!!! Also, toiletries so you can take a shower before dinner. AND don't forget to ALSO carry it on the shuttle bus because the bus stops to deliver your luggage at at different location at Port Canaveral BEFORE it drops you off where you embark. The other families at our table had still not gotten their luggage delivered to their room by dinner time. So there were alot of people still in their sweats and shorts feeling a little grungy at dinner. All luggage was delivered by 8:00pm. So late seating, you're OK there. If you want a table for 4 you need to see the matre'd as soon as you embark. We asked when we went to dinner and the best they could do was change us the next nite. As it turned out we were seated with 2 lovely families with kids our kids ages and we all had a great time so the next night when he came over to change us we declined. We had read so many mixed reviews on the food that we did not have very high expectations but the food in the dining room was absolutely excellent! We made it to the dining room every night and for most other meals and one meal was better than the next. The waiters always gave the children the adult menu and the childrens menu for them to choose from, they also got a different activity book w/crayons each nite. There were banana splits, brownies and many other deserts for the kids. The only thing negative I have to say about the dining room was that on the nite you got complimentary champagne w/dinner they only filled the glasses half-way and I thought they should use smaller glasses rather than look a bit cheap. Also, if you wanted 2 entrees, as someone at our table did for formal nite (prime rib and Lobster tail) she received an entire prime rib platter and when she was completely finished they brought her an entire lobster tail platter. On our other cruises this was treated much more discreetly with both items on one platter. It certainly doesn't encourage you to order more than one entree. So if you want two entrees specify how you want it brought to you. The service otherwise was very good indeed. You ask for it, you get it, and happily.
It was so nice to be able to bring a few bottles of wine and champagne on board. We found the wine selection at dinner to be excellent and priced as they would be in most nicer restaurants. As for the drinks we ordered (we dont drink beer) we found them to be 3.50 to 6.00 which was not bad at all (at least not in Philly). by the way, drinks are NOT free in the casino. We bought one soda card $11 for the kids which they shared. They got free soda at all meals and kid activities and only used the card around the pool. You can purchase them at any of the bars on board.
The menu is very limited (cold sandwhiches, salads, breads, bagels, pastries, fruits and drinks) and the best service we've ever seen. It's free, available 24 hours and delivered in 10 minutes or less. How can you beat that? The kids loved the PB&J's w/chips and 2 cookies and chocolate milk. Coffee delivery in the am is great. The BLT's were really good too.
We just weren't hungry by then!! We were told if we had only one to go to it should be the formal nite buffet because it was the nicest. So we went and it really wasn't much at all compared to the other ships we've been on. One ice sculpture, a few carved watermellons, lunchmeat, roast beef was the only hot item, lots of aspics and salads and stuff I don't care for myself. We went to the one in the Jubilee dining room at 11:45. There is one in the Celebration dining room at 12:15 -- maybe that one is different or better? It's open seating so you can go to either one. This really didn't disappoint us because we were so pleased with the food we had had all day long.
Don't miss the Captains Cocktail Party w/butlered cocktails and horderves. Formal nite was quite informal. My husband wore a sports coat (no tie), I wore a long cocktail dress, daughter a dress, son khaki pants, oxford shirt & tie. I saw no tuxes. All the men had coats on though. I only saw 3 other women w/long dresses on. Most had on short cocktail dresses or daytime sunday dresses. I felt a bit over dressed. Little girls were in dresses/sundresses, young boys/teenage boys, docker pants w/collared or golf shirts. I do think however that the late seating for dinner may be a little more dressy (couples and singles). The lobster tail was fabulous! The waiters performed during dinner most nites. The early show after dinner this nite is PG if you want to bring little ones to a show. Also, the kids really loved the kids "Coke-tail" party in the disco complete w/drinks and hot/cold horderves.
They are not open Sunday in port. Compared to the other two lines we've been on, we thought the pool was a nice size and clean. The two jacuzzi's were a nice size too. We didn't find the jacuzzi's overcrowded this time of year. The weather thru our cruise was 70-73 degrees and mostly sunny (cold front). The way the pool was situated the kids swam everyday and the wind the one day seemed to be buffered by the sides of the ship. The pool closes at 7pm. Beach towels are provided around the pool. The waterslide hours are 2-5 Monday and Tuesday and 11-1 and 2-5 on Wednesday (seaday). There's a line you have to measure up to to use it and my son just made it at 3'10". The baby pool was in the rear of the ship and 2 feet deep. At Camp Carnival children up to age 8 use the baby pool for their water activities so my son wasn't interested in the camp water activities because the pool was too "baby." My daughter enjoyed her "swimming under the stars" from 7-8:30 on formal nite.
Don't miss the galley tour (kind of long getting started, but well worth it). We enjoyed the napkin folding and towel/animal arranging afterwards too. The piano bar was great. Had a ball in the casino (won $245 at blackjack). Everything around the pool is fun. Took my daily jog on the sports deck. We all enjoyed the shuffleboard and ping pong on deck. Comedian was good. Everyone at our table enjoyed the other shows too.
Nice beach towels are delivered to your cabin for goinig off shore. These towels must be returned to your cabin steward on Wednesday or you will be charged for them. DO Pack an extra trash bag to bring the wet/sandy towels back to the boat w/you. Unfortunately, we didn't snorkel (my kids eye's were bothering them) but other families who did (in Freeport and Nassau) really enjoyed it. People who rented the ship's snorkel equipment were sorry they did because the price was the same everywhere they went and they had to drag it all around with them. We have been to Freeport twice and we had decided ahead of time since the cruise was a short one, we would stay on the ship and enjoy/explore the ship which was really a fun day and not crowded at all. Although I must say even though the ship was full it never seemed crowded anywhere. We got off the ship in Nassau and thought we'd play it by ear. We didn't take an excursion because we didn't want to be stuck for 4 hours or more if the kids weren't enjoying themselves. It seemed EVERYONE was going to the Atlantis in Paradise Island or Blue Lagoon. I spoke to quite a few people who took these excursioins and the Blue Lagoon Beach Party seemed to be the best thing to do. They said it was crowded but really beautiful and fun. The people who arrived at the Atlantis were surprised to find you had to pay $35 p/p to see grounds, use the pools. One family said they used the beach for free but then they got hungry and you cant even eat at the Atlantis without a "card" so they came back to the ship. Most people felt it was a rip-off. We took a cab $20/4 people to the other side of the island (he gave us a tour along the way) to the Marriot Crystal Palace on Cable Beach. We walked in the front door through the casino and out the back door to the huge pool, waterslide, waterbar and grill, jacuzzi and beautiful beach w/snorkeling, sunfish and jetski rentals, hair braiding ($1/braid for my daughter), parasailing & boat tours. Our beach towelsl were the same color as the hotels so we fit right in. In fact, the two other couples having pina colodas w/us in the jacuzzi we ran into later at the pier on the way back to the ship. We rented a sunfish for 2 hours/$20 and had a ball. There were only a few people on the beach and tons of lounge chairs around the pool. There are quite a few hotels in a row there so you can sightsee a little too. We had a great day. We hit the straw market on the way back to the ship. That's always fun. DO try to make it to the deck party w/music out on the Lido deck the night the ship is docked in Nassau.
Envelopes for tipping will be delivered to your cabin the last nite before dinner. We prefer to tip the waiter and assistant waiter half the first nite after dinner and the cabin steward half when we meet him for the first time. We just feel we get better service that way. Then, the last night we made up the rest. In full, we paid a little more than was recommended. We did not tip the matre'd or headwaiter of the dining room. Also, they don't mention tipping any of the counselors at Camp Carnival but the last nite after the kids farewell party we tipped our kids favorite two counselors $10 each, for they surely deserved it. Recommended tips were: (for the 4 nite cruise) Cabin Steward $14 p/person; Table waiter $14 p/person, assistant waiter $8 p/person.
There is a debarkation meeting they urge you to go to on Wednesday. We skipped it because it's on TV all night long so I watched it while I packed up to leave the next morning :(. If you have an early flight the morning you debark you need to show your airline tickets to the pursers office the night before so you can get off the ship first. Everyone must have your luggage outside your cabin by 10:00pm Wednesday nite. Remember to leave out clothes for the morning! On Thursday morning there is no room service available, main seating breakfast is at 6:15am, breakfast is available on Lido deck till 8:45am. Everyone must be out of their cabins by 8:00am and go to the lounges or Lido deck till they call your color luggage tag. First call was at 8:25am, then every 10 to 15 minutes thereafter. They called our color at 9:30, we were off the ship, we picked up our luggage and were in the parking lot by 9:50. If you're renting a car from there, Avis and Budget have shuttles every 15 minutes. by 11:00 we were driving our rental car to Tampa. The end!