by Michelle B.
September 5, 2002
My fiancé, Mark, and I just got back from a three-day cruise on Carnival's Fantasy to Nassau in the Bahamas, out of Port Canaveral, Florida. This was our second cruise; our first was on the Jubilee on May 9, 2002. Despite the looming tropical storm, this was a fun trip.
Day 1 - Embarkation
The first day was simply the embarkation day. We stayed at the Hampton Inn at Cocoa Beach the night before. We live in Orlando, but thought it might be easier to stay there the night before than drive to the port the same day as embarkation. The Hampton Inn has a cruise package where you can park your car at the hotel and be shuttled to the pier. This is what we did, mainly because we didn't want to deal with parking at the pier. The shuttle began running back and forth at 12:00 noon. The shuttle company is called Tropical Storm transportation; their number is 321-794-6350. The man who drove the van was very nice. I would recommend this company; in fact, they do shuttles to the pier even if you are staying at a different hotel. I'm not sure what they charge, though, since for us it was included in the package.
We were dropped off at the pier, had to tip the driver, and then had to tip the man who put our bags on the cart (despite the fact that the cart was right there and we could have done it ourselves - but you don't want to stiff a porter and risk losing your luggage!) Then we got in line for embarkation. The whole process didn't take long. I brought a bottle of wine in my carry-on and the security screeners asked if we had brought an extra glass for them. The whole embarkation process was pretty much painless. Boarded the ship, found our room (M109, ocean view on the main deck), and proceeded to have a wander about.
A buffet lunch was being served on the Lido deck at Windows on the Sea and we helped ourselves. Behind Windows on the Sea, in the aft section of the ship, there are two patio-type areas, one on each side. We went to the starboard patio and ate our buffet lunch there. It was a lovely spot, and that's where we chose to be when the ship pulled away from the dock. We got great views of the Disney Wonder and the Royal Caribbean Sovereign of the Seas from that point.
The rest of the day was spent exploring the ship and relaxing. The Fantasy is really a beautiful ship. Of course, we experienced the lifeboat drill, but I was surprised by how brief it was. We went to our muster stations, listened to the lecture, and then it was over. I had thought they would make us go outside to the lifeboats, but they didn't.
That evening we had the late seating dinner at 8:30 in the Celebration dining room. Our tablemates were very nice, agreeable people. Two couples were honeymooning. One couple didn't even show up until the last night - they claimed they both took Dramamine that first evening and it knocked them out for 24 hours! Our waiter and assistant waiter both did an excellent job. I'll talk about the food a little later.
Following dinner we wandered around trying to decide on a place to sit and have a drink. There is something for everyone on this ship. We finally ended up at Cleopatra's, the Egyptian-themed piano bar. The pianist was very entertaining, and everyone was singing along. He had a tip jar out, though, and we had brought no cash upstairs with us, thinking all we would need would be our Sail and Sign cards. Oops. Had to kind of sneak out when it was time to leave, since we felt bad about not tipping.
I really wanted to see the midnight comedian, since so many people have told me how funny the adult shows are. Well, we were very disappointed in this one. Unfortunately I don't know his name, since I think he was a last-minute replacement - he wasn't the same guy who was listed in the Carnival Capers that day. But he wasn't funny. He did some very basic magic tricks and swore a lot. After about five minutes we snuck out. Luckily, we were on the balcony, so he didn't see us, or I'm sure he would have heckled us. I believe his name was T.J. something.
We even made it to the midnight buffet, which was fun. I hadn't realized you could get food to go, and that's what we did. When we had helped ourselves to what we wanted, they handed us lids for our plates and some silverware. I was still full from dinner, so I didn't get much - a couple of sushi rolls and some cake.
Day 2 - Nassau, Bahamas
On the second day we arrived in Nassau. We slept a little late, so we weren't the first ones off the ship. In fact, we just barely made it to breakfast before it closed, but I managed to grab a banana, some danishes, and a carton of milk before they stopped serving. Then we went up to the top deck and had a bird's eye look at Nassau and Paradise Island. We decided to go to Atlantis resort for the day. To get there, we decided to take the ferry, since it seemed to be so close to the ship that it hardly justified the cost of a taxi ride. The ferry to Paradise Island costs $3 per person one way. We got round trip tickets and so paid $12 total for two people. However, once we got on the ferry boat, who should appear but a "friendly tour guide" ready to tell us all about the islands during the trip. He encouraged us to "show your appreciation to your friendly tour guide. I work on tips." So we tipped $1 each (hard not to when he's shoving his hat in your face, and you don't want to be the only one not tipping). A different tour guide appeared on the return trip to Nassau and did the same spiel. We tipped $1 each again. So our round trip ride to Paradise Island ended up costing $16, about the same as if we had taken a cab straight to Atlantis and back at $4 each one way (with no tip - since the fare is twice what they charge the locals). We would have saved a lot of walking if we'd taken cabs. So this is something to consider; the ferry is not necessarily cheaper.
>From the pier at Paradise Island you have to walk a little ways to Atlantis, but it's not far and is a pleasant walk on a nice day. We passed some intriguing shops on the way to the resort, but decided to save them for the walk back. Atlantis is a neat place. It cost $18 million to build, and it really shows. The décor reminded me a bit of Carnival ships - a bit tacky, but in a fun way.
Entrance to the Dig (aquarium) at Atlantis is $25 per person. I had read a post on the Cruisemates Destinations: Caribbean and Panama Canal forum about getting in for free. The poster said that they walked in the casino entrance, out a door in the back, down some stairs, and were in the aquarium, and no one stopped them. Be aware that the resort now posts someone at that entrance to prevent people from doing this. If you do manage to get through that entrance for free, you'll only see about half the attractions. The aquarium is split up in such a way that you have to double back through the casino to see the rest of it. (I suppose you could walk all the way around the back side of the lagoon to get to the rest, also, but I didn't try this; and there are guards posted at the entrance to the other side as well.)
If you pay to get in, you receive a blue wristband. If you sneak in, you won't have a wristband on. The security guards are looking for your wristband, so watch out.
A couple of our tablemates said they started talking to the man posted at the entrance, and eventually he said, "you guys are all right. Go on through. If you see a guard, go the other way because you don't have wristbands." So if you are a charming talker, this may be an option to try!
Anyway, we went ahead and paid the $25 per person. I'm not sure it was worth it, but it was certainly a spectacular tank of fish. There were many "Predator Lagoons" full of sharks and rays, and areas where you could walk through a glass tunnel and see the sharks swim over your head. On the other side of the resort was a building full of tanks, each dedicated to a different type of sea creature. There were tanks full of jellyfish, tanks of moray eels, tanks of lobster, tanks of sea horses, tanks of lionfish. etc. It made for an entertaining afternoon.
For lunch we ate at the café next to the aquarium. It featured giant walls of windows looking into one of the large tanks, so you could watch the fish swim past as you ate. I thought it was a little pricey for the food you got, but it was good food, and filling. I had conch chowder, and my fiancé had a hamburger. The café was very classy, too, with tablecloths and a pianist playing. They brought out excellent bread and butter with our meal.
It began to rain while we were exploring Atlantis, so we did a quick walk-through of its shops (very upscale and expensive) and had an overpriced beer ($5 for a bottle of Bud Light) while waiting for the rain to stop so we could leave. We felt we saw all there was to see in about two or three hours, and as we are not gamblers, there wasn't much else for us to do there. Eventually the rain lessened and we walked in the direction of the ferry pier. There was a little mall area to our left as we walked to the pier and we decided to stop in. We had a large fruity rum beverage and an apple crisp at a cute little restaurant there. I believe it was called Anthony's and was subtitled, "A fun place to eat and drink." The décor was bright, fun Caribbean colors, and the food smelled wonderful. Our apple crisp was delightful, and we wished we had eaten lunch there instead of at Atlantis.
Then we walked through the shops and bought a Hawaiian-print tank dress for me, and a Paradise Island polo-style shirt and Cuban cigar for Mark, all at reasonable prices. Stocked up on duty-free liquor at one of the liquor stores in the mall as well. That was a very pleasant place to shop. If you see this area on your way to Atlantis, stop in. It's a yellow and green strip-type mall.
Then we returned to the ship and spent the rest of the evening there. The great thing about the Fantasy is that it was docked right alongside the town - the Wonder and the Sovereign of the Seas were behind it, in such a way that their passengers did not have a good view of the town. Mark and I found chairs on the starboard side of the ship on the Lido deck, sat there all evening and watched the sun go down on Nassau. That has to be one of the highlights of the whole trip. It was such a great feeling to just sit there and relish the fact that we were in the Bahamas, taking a break from our ordinary lives to do something extraordinary.
That night was formal night. This surprised me, since I thought they would do formal night when we were at sea, since so many people would be in the port, but they didn't. It's always so fun to me to see everyone all dressed up. We had a great formal evening, even won $10 in the casino slots - doubled our money! That night after dinner we changed into more comfortable clothes, and sat out on the Lido deck again, people-watching in the town. What a great memory.
by the time we went to bed, the midnight buffet was going on; this time it was a Caribbean-theme pool party on the Lido deck. It looked and smelled wonderful, and everyone was having fun - dancing, talking, laughing, eating. We had eaten so much dinner, though, that we were still full. That's the trouble with late seating!
Day 3 - Fun Day at Sea
On the third day we woke up late again, but I ate a banana I had brought back from the midnight buffet. Then we went upstairs and spent the morning on that back patio behind the Windows on the Sea, watching the wake of the ship. Had some pizza and some drinks. Mark was doing the bucket of beer thing (bucket of four cans of domestic beer on ice: $11.50); I was trying to stick to pina coladas and daquiris, but unfortunately they were not very good. Watered down and odd-tasting. I never had a good mixed drink at the bar right behind Windows on the Sea, and don't recommend getting drinks there, unless it's beer.
The waiter at dinner the night before had told us they were having baby-back ribs at lunch in the dining room, so we went down for that; ribs are Mark's favorite. I was stuffed full of pizza, so I couldn't eat much. I got a little annoyed with the wait staff, because I had ordered a bowl of soup and a sandwich, both of which were too much food for me to eat, and every time they came to take the plate away they gasped as if in horror and said "you did not like it? What's the matter with it?" and every time I had to explain that I'm just not a big eater. I would have eaten more if I could, because it was all delicious! Mark had very high praise for the ribs, and he considers himself somthing of a rib connoisseur.
In the afternoon we took naps in the cabin, and then mainly sat on deck and watched the sea go by. At 3:30 we had afternoon tea in Cleopatra's Lounge. They had teas and small pastries; all were delicious. Then we sat out on deck again and watched the water. It was a very fun and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
The last evening meal of the cruise, the wait staff danced the Macarena. This is a custom I could live without. They tried to get us up there to dance with them, but we wouldn't dance.
In the evening we sat in the elegant Majestic bar, then went outside while Mark smoked his Cuban cigar. I love being out on deck at night. it's so empty and it feels as if you have the whole ship to yourself. It's very romantic to be able to watch the dark sea go by and scan the horizon for other ships.
Packed and put our luggage outside our door, then went to bed early in preparation for an early morning disembarkation.
Day 4 - Disembarkation
Although I had set my alarm for 6:45, we were awakened at 6:30 by an announcement for foreign nationals to report for immigration. So much for sleeping in a little! Got up, packed our carry-ons and got ready. The cabin steward knocked around 7:30, perhaps thinking we had already left. I answered the door, and he said, "just checking" and left. At 8:00 we were on the Lido deck having breakfast. That was sure crowded and hectic. I didn't like that stressful atmosphere so after we finished eating we moved into the Universe Lounge to wait more comfortably. It was very cold in there. Eventually our color was called and we followed the crowds out the door. It was hard to find our bags, and the whole system seemed very disorganized, but the neon duct tape I had put on the bags helped them stand out. Port Canaveral's idea of customs is to drop your customs form into a box and keep moving. Not very effective, I would say! Although I think they were pulling a few people aside randomly.
Once we were in the parking lot we called for the shuttle to pick us up, and we were back at the Hampton Inn and off towards Orlando by 10:00.
The Carnival Fantasy is a beautiful ship. Lovely five-story atrium with two glass elevators, fairy lights in the dining rooms. Although there is still that typical Carnival glitz - neon lights in the atrium, wildly-patterned carpet, etc. They still want it to reflect fun more than elegance. The ship was always kept immaculately clean; and although some of the railings could use a coat of paint, and the windows could stand to be washed, it was a very pleasant ship. The wide variety of lounges, bars, and clubs on the ship could not all be visited in a short cruise, and there is one to suit every taste. The cabin was large enough that we did not feel cramped. Our cabin steward did a great job keeping it clean and neat. On the Jubilee there was a sewage smell to the bathroom, but we did not have this problem on the Fantasy. The public restrooms perhaps could have been cleaned a little more often, but their level of cleanliness was to be expected when there are that many people around.
The food on the Fantasy was very good. I would have to say that it is much better in the dining room than it is on the Lido deck. There was always something for everyone on the menu, and everything was consistently good. The appetizers were especially good, and I found myself ordering several of them instead of a salad. Desserts were top-notch. Entrees were generally small, but you could always order more. On the Lido deck, the food was served buffet style and was generally about average quality. It was filling, and they always had a variety of choices, but it wasn't the best food I'd ever had. My favorite food item on the whole ship would have to be the pizza. Carnival offers the best pizza at sea, and the pizza on the Fantasy is no exception. It was delicious, with a thick, chewy crust and delicious sauce. They offer plenty of spices with which to dress up your pizza - Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder (which was not labeled, and which I mistook for Parmesan cheese the first time and dumped on my pizza - but one of the chefs noticed and immediately offered to replace my slice), Parmesan cheese, and crushed red pepper flakes. There was also a sushi bar every evening, and while I was not impressed with the sushi on my last cruise, it seems to have improved. The sushi I had was very good.
We are not people who enjoy Vegas-style shows, so we didn't see the shows either night of our cruise. Some of our tablemates told us they were excellent, though. We did try to see the late-night comedian the first night, and that tale is told above. In the lounges there was always someone playing the piano, or a live band, or a DJ spinning tunes. All of the entertainers in the lounges were excellent. Just don't forget tip money.
Overall, the trip was very fun. I really don't have any complaints. The weather was overcast and we experienced some rain, but that was okay. Just remember that how good a time you will have depends on your attitude. Don't go in expecting a Crystal Cruise and you'll be happy. Expect minor problems and don't let them ruin your cruise. No vacation is perfect, and we can't expect them to be or we will be disappointed. Go in with a realistic idea of what to expect, and a great roll-with-the-punches attitude, and you'll have one of the most wonderful vacations of your life.