Yes, I am the same Hope/espa98 that all the controversy was about on the message boards concerning taking my children. Let me tell you about my trip.....
First of all, my reason for this cruise was it was my father's 60th birthday and he chose this cruise and paid for my family, my brothers and their girlfriends, and himself and my mother to all go on this cruise to celebrate. Overall, I had a great time. Here is my trip.
The travel agent we met up with took us straight to the ship at about 2 pm. Although this was considered relatively early in the embarkation process, it was still a madhouse. We had to walk through a warehouse-type building with not very good AC. It was a little difficult with the passpots and id process, as we had 2 non-U.S. citizens with us. Once we had our boarding passes filled out, we had to go to another area and turn it in. This, I assume, was the check-in procedure. However, this was so unorganized that my father lost his cool several times. It took us about 45 minutes to complete this. The young woman behind the counter was not very proficient, and kept having to get her superviser. The worst problem we had was having all our sail-and-sign cards set up to be billed directly to my fathers cabin. Apparently, it is difficult to bill 4 cabins on one credit card. Why? Anyhow, after our disheveled and harried photos were taken for embarkation, we finally got on the ship and proceeded to our cabins.
My parents had a suite with a blcony on the upper level. It was very impressive, with a sitting area, a bar area, and a bathtub. The balcony was nice to stand and look at all that was happening. The sitting area was big enough to accomodate 5-6 people on the wraparound sofa, with 2 more chairs off to the side. For 7 adults and 2 children, it was slightly cramped, but still comfortable enough. My son loved going out to look out on the balcony. The small fridge was very helpful for me with baby food and formula. My brothers and I each had our own smaller interior cabins on the main deck. The cabin was very nicely decorated with Birthday decorations and a cake. This was done through the Bon Voyage service, and for what was paid, was very nice. Mine was equipped with 2 upper bunks, although not needed, and they even provided a small crib for the baby. It was enough room for me to drive in the stroller and move around and that was it. I could have used a slightly bigger cabin, but that is my preference. 2 children in that room was enough. My cabin steward was Jorge. He was acceptable. He didn't lack in anything, yet, he was not outstanding in his service. He did, at times, become impatient slightly. I think it was due to my children, but then again, why allow children if you don't like them?
After we got settled in, we went to our parents cabin and enjoyed drinks and canapes in the cabin, and then proceeded to the dining room for dinner. We had gotten early seating for the first night only.
Our dinner arrangements were in the Imagination Dining Room, and we enjoyed everything. The first night was very hectic, but every other night, we had late seating for everything. we had a table for our group and there was enough that we didn't have anyone else at our table. Our waiter was Alan who was from Croatia. He has been on the ship for 3 years, and he was very entertaining. He had a great sense of humor and did whatever he could to keep us happy with his service. Whenever it came time for the waiters to serenade or perform, he was always the one who goofed off, creating a very fun atmosphere.
The food was wonderful. It was superbly cooked and always presented well. Alan gave his personal choice every evening, which was almost always what we ordered. We were almost always the last people to leave the dining room. Alan always had advice for the next port of call, whith his personal choice of beaches.
After dinner was fun. The disco was always a hit, but the older crowd didn't show until later in the evening. The only down side was that there was a large crowd of teen-age puerto ricans on board, so they hoarded the disco at night.
The shows were good, with the Broadway revue better than the Hollywood revue. The main singers of the shows were very good with amazing voices. I didn't see much of the comedy shows or the variety shows, however.
There were a few of the lounges that seemed to never have anyone in them. I never saw any show listed for them either. I felt that was a waste, but I might have just missed them.
The best fun was when they had parties going on the Lido deck poolside. Those always got the most passenger participation, and created the best atmospheres.
In St. Thomas, I admit to not going ashore. I used that day to relax from the day before. St. Maarten was a beautiful place. After the tender, we got a cab driver to take us to a beach located on the other side of the island. The driver was very friendly and didn't charge us too much. We spent the day on a beautiful white beach swimming in turquoise waters. The cab driver came back several hours later and picked us back up and we then spent 2 hours shopping. I got the best deals there.
In Dominica, we had planned to spend the day at Castaways Hotel. We found a driver to take us there. Now, we had a party of 5 adults and the 2 children, and the driver agreed to take only us, but when he went back to get more passengers, we had an argument. The driver got hostile and then proceeded to drive without very much caution. Once we got to the hotel, we enjoyed ourselves. The hotle staff were very nice.
In Martinique, we hired a driver to take us to the ferry that would take us to a beach across the bay. The driver, however, offered a much nicer alternative. For a price, he would drive us to the southern tip of the island, and take us to a nice quiet beach, while having a tour of the island on the way. We ended up going to a beach right next to Club Med. It was very quiet and peaceful, with a lovely look at the boats moored in the bay. We rented Jet-skis and had a great time driving around. On the way back, we stopped at a local Rum distillery. We drank samples of their Rum, saw how some of it was distilled, and bought several bottles to take home. We then stopped at a local supermarket and bought some supplies the ship didn't carry, like baby food. The driver was very helpful in all aspects. I believe his name was Robert, so if you are ever in the area, try to find him.
Our last Port of call was Barbados. Here, we rented 2 cars to drive to a few of the local beaches. We stopped at a food market again, and loaded up on lunch items, and then finally stopped at Mullin's Bay. The beach was nice. We were located next to a beach bar of sorts, so the locals were out rading their wares. We again rented Jet-skis and had a great time.
This was my lifesaver! The camp was run with great care, and when we weren't in port doing things, my oldest son went to most of the activities. He had a great time, and wanted to go more than I wanted to let him go. The counselors were great and very creative. The babysitting was great for the evening. Several nights my son stayed at the camp, instead of dining with us at our table. The only drawback was that they did not take the baby until after 10. He was very easy for them, though, as he was always asleep by this time. He always fell asleep by the appetizers had arrived at our table.
This was very difficult, and in my opinion, as poorly run as embarkation. We had to have our bags packed by midnight the night before, so no last minute fun on the ship, unless we wanted to carry our clothes with us on the plane. The morning of, we ate our breakfast at 7:30 and then had to wait in the palace lounge until they called our tag colors. We waited until 10:30 and then had to rush downstairs to get our baggage. This was done in a large warehouse again, with no order or preparation involved. It was utter chaos! After fighting our way through thousands of people, we finally got to the outside, after being waved through customs, and had to wait again on the curb for our bus to get close to us.
We had several hours before our planes left for home, so we had the same people that picked us up on the first day, take us around Old San Juan. This was very entertaining and we stopped in one of the squares so we could do some shopping. The driver picked us up an hour later and we were off to the airport.
Overall, I had a great time, with very few glitches. It was a bit more stressful with the children, but I couldn't think of any other way to do this and it not be stressful. The Fascination is a great ship with fun decorations.