December 26, 2004
For my wife and I, this was our second cruise. Last year we sailed on the Sovereign of the Sea for our honeymoon by ourselves, but this time we were traveling as part of a group of ten, with both sets of parents, both of our younger siblings, and one set of her grandparents all along for the party. Some of the problems that we encountered are probably unique to our particular travel group, as well as time of year of travel. Others are representative of the Fantasy in general, and probably cruising with Carnival.
My wife and I traveled to Cocoa Beach on 25Dec, arriving late that evening to meet up with my parents at their hotel and exchange gifts, before moving on to our own accommodations to bed down for the night. Finding hotel space was easy, as the only people in town were those getting on a cruise the next day. Much of the area still suffers from hurricane damage, but it did not affect us at all. The next day the whole group came together for brunch, and then we hit Walgreen's for last minute necessities and Ron Jon's for the novelty. Finally we were ready to move on to the ship, and get the cruise underway.
We encountered no real problems boarding. The porters will ask for a tip, deserved or not, and I always give them one, mainly just to ensure that my bags don't fall over the side into the water. Parking is $10 a day, as regulated by the Port Authority and my father and father-in-law had spent much time trying to figure out how to avoid that charge. If you are driving in, just take it as the cost of doing business, and move on.
The terminal was not as clean or well lit as the one we had used before, but the lines and waiting is pretty standard. Once aboard, we had no problems finding our cabin, and getting settled. It took a bit for the last of our bags (we had three) to get delivered, but finally they did arrive. We also got to meet Putu, our steward, and I hit him with $5 right of the bat, and he got us an extra robe and such. His English was less then marginal, and throughout the cruise he was unable to communicate with older guests, or those not as forceful as myself, or with short attention spans. And he almost never understood what anybody was asking of him. Shortly thereafter we did the emergency drill, and learned that if things go bad we will die in the Electricity Disco on deck 9. Oh well, at least we'll go down drinking.
My wife had already scooped out the Spa, and registered for one treatment that very first day, which netted us a 20% discount. It put her in the vacation mindset, and gave me a chance to get her a surprise present, and hit up the FREE liquor tasting they were having onboard the ship for all the alcohol they were selling. We bought 8 bottles.
The MS Fantasy was built in 1980, and apparently refitted in the late 90's or so. The ship can hold over 3'000 passengers, and a large crew. On our sailing, the ship was not booked at capacity, but you would not know it from moving about. Everything always seemed populated. But the ship is showing its age. In the various bars and night clubs, there is damage apparent on table surfaces and the rugs are worn. The décor throughout the ship is gaudy and bizarre, with bad lighting the norm. In our cabin there was often an odd smell from the toilet, and there was damage apparent to the trim, beds, closet, and doors. The windows looked badly done to me (somewhat of a concern, as we were on the lowest passenger deck, Riviera, and the water was right there), and we could not ever get the vent to stop blowing cold air. All this was new to us, as the cabin on our last cruise had been a small slice of heaven (other then the fact that the jogging track was right outside our window).
All ten of us sat at one table (table 297, Jubilee Dining Room) for the late seating (8pm). We had chosen the late time to allow everybody time to do everything during the day, and then we could all eat together, and do the family thing. Also, there is always food available on a cruise ship, so nobody ever goes hungry. That first night we all got there, found our table, and got settled in without a problem. Our waiter never introduced himself, never said his name, never did anything other then take our orders, execute them sloppily, and then disappear again. This is not the standard that I have for service at a sit down dinner on a cruise ship. He did not even respond well to attempts at conversation, which did not help his cause, either. The food got mixed reviews from around the table, as I thought mine was pretty good to great, the wife and several others at our table were not that impressed. The desert in particular was somewhat lacking. I will say, however, that Carnival does not spare the alcohol when mixing drinks. My wife's Irish Coffee contained coffee only for looks and authenticity.
We spent some time in the Casino that night, losing $25, and then moving on. The ship overall gave us that worn down, worn out expression as we wandered about, trying to get our bearing on what was where. We also enjoyed some sushi, which was pretty good. However, the sushi bar did open late, and the chef was somewhat rude.
Rudeness amongst the crew is a general trend we noticed aboard the ship. Without trying to compare my entire experience on FANTASY to what we saw on SOVEREIGN, the Carnival crew was noticeably less personal. Room service, buffet attendants, security personnel, sushi chefs, bar tenders, everybody seemed to be too busy for you, or very self important. This was noticeably not true in the Spa.
Monday morning we woke up to find us arriving in Freeport. The bumping of the tugs brought us back to reality, combined with the knocking of room service. The attendant handed me the tray, and disappeared in a flash. Upon checking, we noticed that we had hot water for tea, but no mugs. We had cereal, but no milk. A quick call back to room service and a girl returned with milk, creamer, and a plastic drinking cup. My wife gave up, we ate what we had, and we moved on.
We had booked the Kayak & Nature excursion for Freeport, so we went down to the pier with my sister and waited for everybody else. At about 0850 we boarded a bus, and traveled through Freeport to the company actually conducting the excursion for Carnival. Much of the island and city still shows serious damage from the Hurricane, in addition to not being one of the better looking places in the world in its better days.
When we got to Kayak & Nature Tours, the company doing the actual heavy lifting, we transferred to a series of small Chevy and Mitsubishi vans, and rolled to the actual park. The guide for our group was Ben, a native of England who had lived in the Bahamas for sixty years now. Very knowledgeable, but somewhat deaf. He had a speaker attached to a headset he wore in the van that he used to narrate the entire trip, and to answer our questions. We got to the Natural Preserve, and he walked us through a series of caves and such, then we went into the mangrove swamp, and climbed into our kayaks. The kayaking was easy, and there is no reason to fall into the water unless you choose to. Two or so miles later we arrived at the open ocean, wandered around for a bit, then drove back to our starting point, and walked back out to the beach to eat lunch.
Due to recent epidemics of food sickness and other illnesses on cruise ships, the cruise lines have instituted a policy that prohibits shore excursion vendors from providing any type of "finished" food. This means that nothing cooked can be served off the vessel by anybody operating under a cruise line contract. That must be because the cooks on the ship are so much more regulated...well, anyways.
So lunch consisted of cold cuts, bread, cookies, and a fine selection of water, ice tea, and lemonade. Overall, the trip was very informative and fun, dampened somewhat by the weather. But during the spring and summer, I would recommend it.
Upon returning to the ship, my wife and I went to the gym, co located with the spa. The actual locker rooms are very nice, and look clean, if somewhat small. A locker is available if you hand over your sign and sail card, and they provide towels. The showers are clean and hot, with a very unique five-nozzle system.
The actual gym itself is made up of a very limited selection of free weights, some treadmills and such, and a very unique collection of hydraulic weight machines. My brother in law hated them, and I personally could not get used to them. Apparently a similar system is in use by Curves, the all ladies gym, but this equipment appeared aged and over the hill. I used a treadmill for about ten minutes, when it suddenly and for no reason shut off, giving me some odd error code.
A note here about the staff of Fantasy. The gym was staffed by usually one or two attendants, whose main occupation seemed to be folding fliers. They were not knowledgeable about the equipment, or why the treadmill might have failed. There were also other staff members there, working out. If you work for Carnival, and you wear your nametag, I will approach you if I have a question. I don't care what you are wearing or doing. If you are on your off time, and don't want me talking to you, don't wear your nametag. If you are on duty, and in full uniform and nametag, don't be browsing the duty free shops in little groups. The store is only the size of a small broom closet, and I paid to be on this ship to enjoy myself. You are paid to ensure I enjoy myself. See the relationship?
After my wife and I were done playing with the hydraulics, we utilized the hot tub. DO NOT USE THE HOT TUB! Let me say that again, DO NOT USE THE HOT TUB! Under no circumstances should you allow any member of your party to use any of the Jacuzzi's or other whirlpools on the ship. The one by the gym gave my wife a yeast infection, and when we went to the infirmary to get a treatment, the young girl there simply handed us a prescription medication, simply charging us fifteen extra dollars, for a total of $39.32. Apparently this is not all that rare.
We had been to Nassau before, and so we did not plan any excursion. At breakfast we meet a family who had booked the snorkeling, but due to choppy seas it was cancelled. Our families wanted to meet for lunch, so we walked to the end of the pier, and rented a scooter for the day. The cruise lines discourage this practice, and I do not recommend it for the faint of heart, but it makes getting around a breeze. Keeping to the left is not all that hard, you just stay with traffic. However, do be aware that Bahamanians treat traffic laws more as suggestions, and one must drive appropriate to ones vehicle and level of skill. But many of the drivers were understanding (a salt pepper couple on a beat up scooter, must be tourists), and let us cut in here and there. We managed to hit all three Forts, as well as the Zoo. We did not actually go into the Zoo, as we did not want to pay $12 per head.
Lunch was at Conch Fritters, which Frommers highly recommends. We do not. The service was terrible, the food expensive, and it was not all that good. If you want to spend money on local fare, do so. If not, the food on the ship is paid for. With my wife backseat navigating, and me driving, we continued around a bit after lunch, and then returned to the ship.
That night the ship had a karaoke contest, and my sister and mother, along with my mother and brother in law sang along to their hearts content. It was a pretty good time, and the gentleman running the show was pretty funny. Our families recommended him for the position of cruise director, as the guy who was running that part of the whole experience was somewhat lacking. After karaoke, there was a kind of beach party up on the deck, and we participated there as well. The limbo contest was non-age discriminatory, so the little kids took the prize. After that, there was sort of parody karaoke, and I won a medal by once again demonstrating my total willingness to take off my shirt in public.
The next day was our day at sea, so we spent some time exploring things we had not taken advantage of yet, such as shuffleboard. My brother in law and I cleaned up on this gentleman and his son, so that was a good time. That night, there was a special desert served at the sit down dinner, and we each were given a printed drawing of the ship. We had the dinner crew sign it, and then everybody in our party signed everybody else's. Good memory material.
Overall, we enjoyed our time on the Fantasy, mainly because we had our families there with us, and because my wife and I were focused on spending as much time together as possible. However, had it not been for the presence of our families on the ship, we would have taken advantage of Carnivals offer of flying back to the US at the first port of call you come to. We have a certain expectation of what a cruise vacation provides, based on our previous experience, and those expectations were not meet. We will not cruise with Carnival again.