Carnival Reviews - Cruise Ship reviews by Cruisemates Readers
Carnival Cruise Lines

by Jeff "Jamman" Maskall
Western Caribbean
July 16, 2007

We tacked this cruise on to the back of a 10 day Disney World vacation. We find this to be the perfect way to relax before making that long drive back up to New Jersey. This was my 22nd Carnival cruise, and 26th overall. Patti has also achieved Platinum status, and the boys are just about there. We chose the Fascination, because she sailed to two ports we had never visited before, Key West and Calica, Mexico.

We arrived at the pier in Miami at 11:30, after the 3-3/4 hour drive from Orlando, dropped our luggage off with the porter, then parked in the covered parking deck on the lowest level, closest to the entrance to the terminal. Cost was $15./day. Since we are Platinum members we entered the VIP line, and were led to a nice office to complete our check in. After quick stops to pick up our cabin keys, and take the embarkation photo, we were onboard around Noon. A very painless process!! Cabins were not ready until 1:30, (they even closed the fire doors so you couldn't sneak in), so we headed up to the Coconut Grove Bar & Grill for our embarkation lunch. We ate all of our breakfasts and lunches here. Nothing special, just the normal buffet fare, but I felt there was plenty of variety. Patti and I loved the deli section, especially with the variety of grilled sandwiches they served up. Our boys loved the Pizza, and all the free ice cream they could eat!!

After lunch, we explored a little bit before heading to our cabin. Having been on Fantasy class ships many times before, we knew our way around. The ship had been refurbished lately and was in great shape. My favorite enhancements were the addition of the Grand Atrium Bar, and the 9-hole miniature golf course on the forward Sun Deck. Since we booked this cruise less than a month before, we opted for an outside guarantee, and were assigned M-57 on Main Deck forward. This was a standard quad outside cabin, and served our needs perfectly. Our cabin steward did a wonderful job the whole cruise. Before long, it was time for the muster drill. Our muster station was in the Palace Lounge, and they never led us outside, so we were comfortably cool during the entire 20 minute drill. For sailaway, we grabbed a bucket of beer, and some chairs at the back of the ship. Even after so many cruises, I still get a rush of excitement when they throw the lines, and the ship begins to move!! It had been nearly 10 years since we last sailed from Miami, so we hung out until we were well out into the Atlantic Ocean!!

We requested and received Late Sitting Dinner (8:00 pm) in the Imagination Dining room, which is the dining room all the way aft. We also requested and were given a table for four. Our wait team was excellent all cruise, and just about all of our meals were served just the way we liked them. Meats were cooked perfectly, and served hot, and the Lobster on the only formal night was fantastic. I had seconds and thirds!! One thing I would like to see improved is the variety of desserts. We wound up having just ice cream most evenings. We still enjoy the nightly entertainment in the dining room, even though we've seen it many times before. Half the fun is watching how the newbies react, since there are always plenty of virgin cruisers on these short cruises.

The boys quickly made new friends, and hung out with them in Camp Carnival. They have loved Camp Carnival since they were little kids, and enjoy going. They both are now at the age where they can sign themselves in and out of the program, but we gave them strict guidelines about what they can do, and where they can go if they aren't at camp, or with us, and so far they are handling their "freedom" responsibly. Our babies are growing up!! Ryan signed up for the late night party on the third day, and had a blast. He was delivered back to the cabin at 4:00 am by a staff member, so we didn't even have to pick him up!!

Patti and I didn't attend any of the shows, but we did spend some time in the Casino Royale every evening. I play blackjack and won $750 during the cruise. Patti likes both blackjack and the slots, but wasn't having much luck this cruise. Being a Platinum member, you are entitled to a free entry into the blackjack or slots tournament. I used my entry for the blackjack tournament, but couldn't qualify for the final table. Patti used her free entry to enter the slots tournament, and I bought an entry, and I was the one that wound up qualifying for the final. Patti was steamed since she was knocked out of the running during the last qualifying round, and said since I was a blackjack player, I had no business entering the slots tournament!! Lol. Well, to tick her off even more, I picked machine #4 for the final round, and wound up winning the $500 prize and the genuine plastic gold ship on a stick!!! Being the nice guy that I am, I gave her half the prize money and sent her off to the shops!!!

Our first port of call was Key West, and was a short 7 hour stop (7am 2pm), not leaving much time to discover and explore. The Fascination docked at the Navy Pier which is kind of a hassle, since you have to use a free trolley bus to leave the base, unless you have booked a shore excursion thru Carnival. You are not allowed to walk off the base. The trolley bus takes you to, and brings you back from, Duval street. We decided that we needed a beach day, so we took a van over to Smathers beach on the south side, passing Hemingway's house, and the marker for the southern most point of the US on the way. The beach was ok, but the water was full of seaweed and not very enticing. There were water sports equipment available for rental on the beach, and restrooms and a tiki bar were available across the street at the Sheraton hotel. We had had enough after a few hours and headed downtown, but really didn't have enough time to check things out. Patti and I agreed that the next time we come here, and there will be a next time, we will forget the beach, and I will do the pub crawl and she will shop!!

Our second port of call was Calica, and the port itself was the worst I've ever been to. It is literally a gravel pit / rock quarry, with various machinery and conveyor belts all around. The parking lot where you board your transportation for the various excursions is gravel. Locals set up tents next to the entrance to ply their goods when you go back to the ship, and they are pushy!! That being said, from this port you can take just about any excursion offered on the Yucatan Peninsula, such as trips to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Xel-Ha, and Xcaret, to name just a few. Again, we felt like relaxing so we booked the Calica Beach Break thru Carnival. This four-hour excursion was a bus ride (20 minutes) to La Playa Beach, and included an open bar, beach chairs, and non-motorized water toys such as mats, boogie boards, and kayaks. The beach itself was nice, but really nothing special. Of course, a half hour after we arrived it began raining, so we went into the restaurant for a bite to eat (not included in price). Shortly thereafter, it cleared up and we enjoyed the rest of our time there, though the water was a bit rough, so they wouldn't let the kayaks out. This disappointed the boys a little, but they still had a great time on the boogie boards, as the waves were pretty big. I myself made sure I got my money's worth by utilizing the open bar!! After leaving the beach you have the option of going right back to the ship, or they would bus you up to Playa del Carmen if you wanted to shop. If you chose to go shopping, you were on your own to get back to the ship when you were done. We skipped the shopping, and were dropped off at the ship.

Our last full day was a sea day, and we all just relaxed, as this was our last full day of vacation before heading home to New Jersey. We enjoy cruising on Carnival, and plan to do so many more times in the future.

Though a bit sad that our Disney World / Fascination cruise was coming to an end, we took solace that in less than a month, we would be aboard the Explorer of the Seas for a 9-day cruise from New Jersey. At least for that one, we need to drive only 45 minutes, instead of 23 hours!!

Happy cruising!!