December 22, 2003
This was my third cruise, but my first on Carnival. It was a 4 day cruise on Carnival's Fascination from Miami with ports of call Key West and Cozumel. Overall, this is a great value for money and a memorable cruise. The ship (for ten years old) is kept in very good condition and the "infamous" manequins reported elsewhere were nowhere to be found. It surpassed my (minimal) expectations.
EMBARKATION went very smoothly if you remembered to fill out the online paperwork, otherwise you get to join a longer line. As soon as I was onboard, lunch was served in the Lido deck and my cabin was ready for occupancy. Luggage arrived sometime later. You board into the ship's Atrium, which is breathtaking. I wish I had gotten a deck plan in advance, but much of the fun is finding your way around. My only gripe was that they scheduled the boat drill for departure time - no "Love Boat" style streamers or horn blowing. Just a bunch of huddled passengers in orange life preservers watching Miami slip into the sunset. Hardly a festive start. Also, it seems odd that they've just given everyone free champagne (some had been drinking up for 4 hours!) and NOW we were expected to be orderly, attentive, and learn emergency procedures!!! Good luck!
My CABIN seemed very spacious for an inside Riviera Deck single. Not needing the top bunk made the room seem larger than the outside rooms where two beds cramped the floor or the air. I didn't miss the porthole. After all, how much time do you spend in the cabin? And isn't it all at night? So I saved some money and was fine with it. First night, the steward knocks on my door at 8pm while I'm in the shower. As I had the 8:30 dinner seating, it seemed odd that he chose this time to want to turn down the bed. Suggestion - give the cabin stewards the guests dinner seatings. After this, I NEVER saw or spoke to the steward again!?!? He left towel animals for me two of the four nights, and mints only one. Result? Standard (Carnival suggested) tip.
FOOD was plentiful but varied greatly by venue. Lido deck burgers and hotdogs were below par (even for fast food) while Dining Room fare is superior or at a par with other lines. Nothing astounding, but quite nice. The "show" buffet (mostly food sculptures and aspics) was beautiful but strictly for the shutterbugs. Not a gastronomic feast, but a visual one. The Coconut Grove restuarant off the Lido deck was good buffet fare with a "Taste of Nations" each day. Breakfast buffet here served fresh omelettes and very fresh pasteries every morning. My waiters Nohrman and Billijana were excellent and most attentive, even to a wacky pain in the a** who sat at my table. They were most gracious and earned a bit more than the Carnival suggested gratuity from me.
FREE DRINKS - No, not all the time, but there were some opportunities for freebies. As mentioned, when you first get on board there is free champagne; the "art" auctions (though skip the auctions and drink up); the first super shopper talk; the Captain's cocktail party; and a couple of other "come and spend" activities. If you don't drink booze or soda, tea, coffee and juices flow non-stop. Carnival's onboard "credit card" is the Sign & Sail Card (known as the "Drink & Sink" Card) and all purchases can be put through it but get carried away and you could spend more than you paid for the cruise.
PORTS - Be careful of Carnival's over-priced land tours. If you just want to shop or go swimming, don't pay their package price. For example, in KEY WEST they offer the Trolly Tour - one hour for $24 when you can get a 90 minute tour for $20 if you buy your ticket in port. This Trolly tour is your best bet if you've never been to KEY WEST. In COZUMEL, take Carnival's cue for sporty activities, but if (again) shopping is your thing - just get off the boat - take a $6 taxi into town (all taxis are regulated, so you can't get ripped off) and walk! Don't miss a stop at Carlos & Charlies Cafe for the true Cozumel experience. Carnival offered a 15% off coupon onboard.
SHOPPING - Carnival employs a "super shopper" who gives talks on "where to go" in port. These are ONLY places where Carnival has an arrangement. While I understand they don't want us to get ripped off, I prefer to make my own decisions, thank you. Most of the shops are jewelry stores (how many times can you hear the word "tanzanite"?) so if you aren't in the market for gems, skip the super shopper talk entirely. Besides, our super shopper told us to "walk right through" the duty free shop, but never advised where to buy Tequila and Kahlua, even though she admitted that the deals on ship were not as good as in Mexico. But (to her credit) she does throw out to the crowd some nifty give-aways, so sit UP FRONT and "make some noise" (as they repeatedly beg you to do).
ENTERTAINMENT was "Hollywood" and "Broadway" strictly by way of Las Vegas. The female dancers wore more make-up than drag queens (which looked a bit funny on the nun and the cab driver in the "Broadway" revue). The cruise director was fine (a typical Liverpool comic turned cruiser) and the show "hosts" were lively young people who kept the Bingo games and "let's make some noise" activities lively. Special marks to host Erin who was perky without ever getting annoying. She seemed most in touch with the guests of the entire crew.
DEBARKATION was a mess. Miami is trying out a "Self Express" checkout if you don't mind carrying out all your own bags and leaving an hour earlier than everyone else (7:15am). Sadly, Customs held the ship up for 90 minutes and through this plan into confusion. Self Express passengers started to mix with other departures and the hallways and gangways were a mob scene by 9am when Customs finally allowed departure. Instead of announcing an "order" to when to leave (ie: Self Express first, Orange tags second, etc) they just let everyone mob the gangway. Also, if Self Express is to work, folks can't carry more than one small bag. People trying to juggle two or three cases made it a mess. BTW, the Port of Miami is under construction and is a mess, too. So don't expect much from Miami - getting on and off.
OVERALL - I would recommend this cruise, especially for families and young first-cruisers. There is good value for money and (if you are in the mood for fun with a capital "F") you will have a good time.