As we walked onto the ship we were greeted by the beautiful atrium, the new atrium bar and the piano player performing the theme from "Titanic." Too funny! We headed straight for our stateroom to drop off our small carry-ons.
We were pleasantly surprised by the size of the stateroom - I had truly pictured postage stamp size - and knew it was plenty big enough for the two of us to live comfortably for 4 days. It was spotlessly clean and thanks to our cabin steward (he/she was invisible, BTW) stayed that way throughout the cruise. The bathroom had a large shower with shampoo and bath gel dispensers and a lovely little basket of some free goodies! The new duvets and pillows were luxuriously comfortable. The safes are located in the closet and are programmable with a code of your choosing. Plenty of closet space, hangers and room under the beds for our luggage.
The adventure begins!
Thomas has clued us not to miss being on deck when we left Port Canaveral. Apparently the locals gather in a bar and on the bank to wave the ships off. It was fun to wave "goodbye" even though we didn't know a soul! But before leaving we enjoyed lunch at Windows of the Sea (more about food later) and then proceeded to get the feel of the Fantasy. I didn't see her before the drydocking, but some of the problems I had read about seemed to have been solved. Carpet was clean, new draperies and apparently recovered or new furniture, as well. We were both enthralled by the Promenade Deck, decorated "Last Days of Pompeii" style. Beautiful marble floors, comfy furniture and nice deep window seats for gazing at the sea. We returned to this deck several times during the cruise when either of us needed a quiet moment. There was always a window seat waiting.
We changed for dinner and made our way to the dining room. We chose the earliest seating, but won't make that mistake again. 5:45 was really just TOO early. Also, if you don't want to be around lots of smaller children, I would suggest an later seating. Our table mates were extremely pleasant, but 5 course dining with two small children (ages 3 and 4) turned out to be less than wonderful. It was just really too long for the 2 little girls, but we still managed to enjoy our meals. I know Carnival makes an effort to seat "similar" diners, and therefore, families with kids are seated with other families with kids. Unfortunately, my 13 year old would have been much happier with adults than with 3 and 4 year olds. Nevertheless, the dining experience as a whole was quite wonderful.
After dinner we wandered the ship, went to the show and just enjoyed everything Carnival had to offer for the rest of the night. I discovered the Casino and my son the arcade.
Our waiters in the Celebration Dining Room, Darko and Frank, were fabulous! They remembered all our drinks after the first night and we never had to order. They also remembered what we liked and didn't like and made appropriate suggestions. My son had seafood every night and loved it all. He reported the lobster was delicious. I highly recommend the pumpkin soup. He turned 13 during the cruise and decided to make adventurous dining his goal. He ate anything and everything and Darko and Frank got a kick out of his "anything goes" attitude! This is a kid who is a pretty picky eater, so it was fun to watch him be so bold!
Windows on the Sea (the casual buffet dining) was good, but not extraordinary. We only made it to the dining room at night, eating at Windows for breakfast buffet (except for the one day we ordered room service) and lunch, but next time I plan on trying the dining room for breakfast and lunch. 24 hr. pizza is quite yummy (and always seemed fresh), and the soft serve ice cream available 24 hours was my son's favorite! The deli sandwiches available next to the pizza kitchen were quite tasty and made fresh to order. We bought a $11.99 (for 4 days) soda card for my son, who really got his money's worth! I only had 2 sodas the entire cruise and happily paid $2.50 for each of them.
Fresh sushi is served everyday from 5-8 pm on the Promenade Deck. My son was first in line everyday and the sushi chef knew him and was grinning at him by the 2nd day as his best customer! I usually took this opportunity to try to the "drink of the day" while enjoying the Promenade deck I loved them all except one (can't remember the name) which was just a little too "coconutty" for me! I also have a rule that I don't drink "pink" drinks, but I waived it and was glad I did. The Bahama Mama is quite tasty (I had several....) in spite of the color. The Fun Ship and Yellow Bird are also quite good and these drinks of the day are only $2.50!
We only actually ate at the midnight buffet once, but it was pretty good. It was fun to sit with new folks (you are not seated at your regular table, but rather randomly in the dining room with other folks and talk about our ship experiences. We walked through and looked at the buffet on "Gala Night," but weren't really hungry (could it have been that 11 pm PIZZA we ate??).
I had read that Port Hole magazine gave Carnival the "Best Entertainment" award for the year and can understand why. I was delighted at the quality of the entertainment. The comedians were hilarious and the Vegas and Broadway shows are not to be missed! My son liked one of the comedians, Ronnie Bullard, so much that he bought his CD. Ronnie talked to him for awhile and signed the CD, much to my son's delight! The day of the Vegas show Mark Goodwin, our cruise director, announced several times that families with children should be aware that the costumes were "Vegas" costumes and somewhat revealing. He was right and the b*** floss bottoms raised my son's eyebrows! The Broadway show was fabulous and I got to watch it sitting next to a real live former Rockette from the 40's! She slept through lots of the shows and bingo as well, but perked right up when they started doing 42nd Street. She sang and kicked her feet - what a cute lady! The piano player at Cleopatra's was quite accomplished, as were the other musicians aboard. I especially liked the Jazz group.
I was surprised at how much I liked the casino. I only played the slots (and actually WON a little!), but watched all the games, including BJ. I decided that next cruise I would find a seat at the table and play. And for the non-smokers (of which I am one), I didn't find the smoke to be too terribly bad. They obviously have a pretty good air circulation system.
My son liked the arcade (surprise!), especially the surfing game. You stand on a surfboard and "surf". The ATV game was also fun. Games are mostly $1, so be careful parents - you can run through some money in the arcade! He popped his head into "Spirals," the club for 12-18 year olds, but didn't much like it. He met a few kids and hung with them a little, but really liked the trivia games, etc. better. Some of the games he couldn't participate in and when I asked Bonnie the social director why, she said it was really that Camp Carnival didn't want to compete with the games! They were afraid the kids wouldn't come to Camp Carnival if they could play in the adult games. They were right - my son was hooked - and even though he couldn't always play, he liked watching me play and some of the friends we met onboard.
Games and silliness
We were pleasantly surprised to find that the games were our favorite part of the cruise! We played everything - from ship trivia, music trivia, bingo (be careful, it's addictive!), horse racing, shipboard survivor (I was chosen as a contestant), jeopardy type trivia - you name it! One of the highlights of each day was coming back to the cabin after dinner to find the next day's "Carnival Capers" on your bed (along with the cute towel animal each night). We would sit with a highlighter (don't leave land without one!) and map out the next day. I encourage everyone cruising for the first time to throw caution to the wind, participate and don't worry about being silly! Not only did we thoroughly enjoy ourselves, but we met so many people that we continued to enjoy throughout the cruise. I was chosen to be on stage on the first day for a goofy game (spoon on a long string - two teams of 4 people each - spoon dropped alternately down a shirt, down pants legs and then back - winning team finished first) and won a bottle of champagne. It's crazy how those silly "ships on a stick" are so popular. My son coveted them and finally was awarded one by the asst. cruise director for being on stage the most! He helped with several bingo games, horse racing, trivia - you name it - he was on stage! Our "24 carat solid gold plastic piece of ship on a stick" still proudly sits as a "centerpiece", along with the bottle of champagne on our dining room table.
I was thrilled with the pleasantness and friendliness of the staff. If you even hesitated in the hall, someone would ask "May I help you with something?" My son almost instantly lost his soda card and the bartender at the atrium bar replaced it without making him feel bad, or even checking our account to make sure we really had bought one. Our cruise director, Mark Goodwin, was very professional and seemed to care very much that we all enjoyed ourselves. His wife, Terri, the Asst. Cruise Director is also a real pro. We were fortunate to get to know the 2 social directors (maybe because we were at every game?!?) Traci and Bonnie pretty well. They were just plain fun party girls! I got to have several long talks with each of them about their lives aboard ship and really learned a lot. I would love to cruise with them again and hope we run across them on another Carnival cruise.
2nd day - Freeport
Although Freeport is pretty ugly where the ship docks, it has some beautiful spots. We hopped into a taxi heading for Port Lucaya with "Steve" our driver. It was quite the adventure as Steve talked non-stop (we learned a lot about Freeport) and drove (weaving in and out) about 75 mph. Port Lucaya is pretty and has a fair amount of shopping. We hung out on the beach and took some pictures, but after dipping toes into the water (the beautiful 10 colors of blue water...) decided against actually getting in. Back to the ship for a late lunch and enjoying the rest of the day. We learned a lot about "how to shop and bargain" in Freeport, so we were a little more experienced for the straw market in Nassau the next day. Freeport isn't somewhere I would want to visit again, and I'm a little disappointed that the short cruises the Miracle is offering from Jacksonville are Jacksonville/Freeport cruises! I think if you were a first time cruiser and only went to Freeport you would be sorely disappointed in the Bahamas! Back to the ship for relaxing and playing! It was my son's 13th birthday (the reason for taking the cruise) and our waiters brought him 3 desserts - the 1st being pumpkin pie that he wanted but was advised against; the 2nd the chocolate cake he settled for as his 2nd option and the 3rd a lovely birthday cake which we were able to take back to the cabin to enjoy that night and the next day.
3rd day - Nassau
Nassau is much more beautiful at the pier than Freeport. We decided to take a Glass Bottom Boat tour, which we booked through Carnival. We got off the ship and took our own little walking tour of Nassau, which included the big main post office (my son is a stamp collector). We discovered there aren't crosswalks in Nassau and traffic laws seem to be more of "suggestions" than laws. I wouldn't recommend scooter rental! We ate lunch at The Bahamian Kitchen, which was recommended in Frommer's as a place the locals ate and not too touristy. Although actually finding it was a bit of a challenge, it was, as promised, good Bahamian cooking. My son had the cracked conch and I had conch chowder and peas and rice. Cheap and filling. Since our boat tour didn't leave until 1 pm, we tried our hand at public transportation. Buses are plentiful and cheap, but to our surprise there aren't really bus stops, you just hop out in front of a bus and wave! We finally found the bus we wanted to Ardastra Gardens, but the driver missed our stop. He insisted on only charging us half fare and a mile later (on foot) I knew why! We finally gave up, hopped another bus back to the ship. We did lots of shopping at the Straw Market, located right on the dock and went home with waaaay too many trinkets, but it was fun.
The glass bottom boat tour was fun - about 2 hours - and with yummy rum punch (including non-alcoholic for kids and non-drinkers). The staff is friendly and funny and give a harbor tour on the way to the coral reef. Beautiful coral and marine life! We were also taken to the site of a shipwreck and the smokestack is still visible lying on the ocean bottom.
4th Day - at Sea (rockin' and rollin'!!)
I have to say, the day at sea was by far our favorite of the 4 days, even with the weather. We apparently ran into a cold front which had the boat rocking almost first thing on our day at sea. It got progressively worse, so that around 2 pm, I was starting to feel a little lightheaded. Back to the cabin for Bonine. I was fine and never experienced ANY seasickness. I can't say the same for my son, who waited until he felt queasy before taking Bonine. It took almost 2 hours before he was okay enough to leave the cabin. While he was lying sick, I was out on deck with a few other crazy people who just had to see the by then 20-30 foot swells. I wouldn't want this rockin' and rollin' on every cruise, but I'm glad I got to experience it once. We went back out around 11 pm and hardly anyone was out! We sat in Cleopatra's, the piano sing-along bar, alone! Walking was difficult and I think just too much for some folks.
Debarkation was pretty much what I expected and we were off in 2 hours.
My son and I voted this the best vacation, hands down, that we'd ever taken! He says he'll never forget his 13th birthday and neither will I. We are planning another cruise this year, hopefully with my husband who simply would not go this time around (said it sounded too "confining") and will definitely try Carnival again!