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Julie D

Age: 43


Number of Cruises: First Cruise

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Fascination

Sailing Date: June 28th, 2002

Itinerary: 3 days/Miami to Nassau, Bahamas

PLANNING: My sister went on a cruise with friends on the Carnival Fantasy two months ago, and she loved it so much that she wanted to take her teenage children on a cruise for a family vacation. She planned the trip for herself, her 17-year-old son, and her 14-year-old daughter, and she allowed each of her children to invite a friend. She discovered, however, that the two 17-year-old boys would not be allowed to stay in a room without an adult, so she invited my husband and myself to join them, with my husband booked in the boys room and myself with her in the girls room. She made all the arrangements herself, and since my husband and I were late add-ons, we really didn’t know much about what was going on, didn’t read up on where we were sailing to, didn’t know about or plan any excursions, etc. However, we were on a budget and the price was quite reasonable (about $438 for 3 days)—$146 per day, including room, meals, and entertainment, which was FAR less than my husband and I spent two years ago on our trip to London.

PRE-BOARD: We flew to Miami the day before the trip and spent the night in a hotel. We felt this was a very good decision, as eight years earlier, my husband and I were on a plane to Miami which got delayed, and there was a couple stressing that their ship was leaving while we were still on the plane. We had a nice, short stay in Miami Beach, and on Friday morning, we checked out and took two cabs to the Port of Miami.

EMBARKATION: We arrived about 11:30 am, and the line was not too long to get checked in. After going through, we got keys, got a group photo taken, got our Sign & Sail cards, got our ID picture taken, showed our passports, and entered the ship.

We found our cabins. They were not nearly as small and cramped as I thought they might be. I have heard many people complain about cramped quarters on ships, especially when you can’t afford the luxury suites, but this was not bad at all. There were four of us in the cabin, and each of us had a twin bed, two of which folded down from the wall (the teen girls took those, but they said it was cold up there), with ladders stored in the closet which were brought out at bedtime. There was a TV showing continuously three up-to-date movies (“Lord of the Rings” was one of the choices)—but we never really had time to watch them. We were on the Upper Deck, in the rear portion of the ship, with inside rooms (no windows).

EVENING OF DAY 1: After finding our cabins and being greeted by our room steward, we began to walk around the ship. Frankly, I was blown away by the whole thing. I’m not sure what I really expected, but it was all fabulous. It took us awhile to get oriented—there was one floor where you couldn’t get through from the rear to the middle and front sections—but there was plenty to see. Casino, numerous bars, shops, photo gallery, library, theater with a stage, main dining room, and a bar and grill, main pool area, children’s play area, spa, track.

Just about the time we were ready to leave, they did a required drill (4:30-5:00 pm). We had to get our life jackets and take them to our “muster station” (ours was in the Palace Lounge, where we sat around like SpongeBob SquarePants for 30 minutes wearing these big, squarish lifevests). When it was over, we took our jackets back to our cabins and got ready for dinner.

We were in the early seating for dinner (5:45 pm) in the Imagination Dining Room. It was totally elegant. Our waiter was Dante from the Philippines, and he was very friendly and outgoing. As a Weight Watcher, I was trying to eat light and I appreciated that they had the nutritional information for their Nautica Spa selections. I selected all three of the lighter selections—the starter, the soup, the entree (grilled tilapia), and the dessert (banana cake). It was served Nouvelle Cuisine style, with dainty portions arranged artistically on a plate with flair and garnish. I enjoy gourmet cuisine, but the teens were a bit unimpressed. (My niece only wanted cheeseburgers from the kids menu). For adventurous diners, the menu was heavenly. Since there were 7 of us at a table for 9, we really didn’t get to sit with other people and meet them. No one ever sat in the extra two chairs at our table. There was a photographer going around to the tables to get photos, so we got our pictures taken again.

After dinner, we wandered around awhile, played slots in the casino, and I stopped by the spa to check on their prices. I came very close to scheduling a seaweed wrap and full-body massage, but the price ($146) was a bit much for me at the time (next time, I will!). We went to see the show, called “Hollywood.” It was highly professional, with great singing and dancing. Afterward, we went out on the deck at night to watch the ocean and talk. We could see the glow of lights in the far distance and we wondered what place it was, but we really didn’t know.

DAY 2—NASSAU: We went to bed by about 11:30 pm, knowing we would be docking in Nassau at 7:30 am. I awoke early at 6:00 am. I could hear rumbling sounds and drilling sounds for about 30 minutes, which I guessed was related to our getting close to land. My curiosity was killing me to know what was going on. I was too excited to go back to sleep, so I thought if I could run up to a deck, I might actually get to see us pull into the port. I threw on some shorts with my sleep shirt and put on my glasses (I was only in my sock-feet, and I’m sure my hair was a mess, but I didn’t realize so many people would be up and around at that time), and went up to see out. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the deck to see out, we were already parked in the dock—and it was only 6:45 am. Next time, I would like to get a window or a private deck so I can see what’s going on outside.

My sister, husband, and I got dressed and had breakfast in the informal Coconut Grove Grill. I thought the breakfast selections were quite diverse. I usually eat a high fiber breakfast cereal, and didn’t expect them to have that on the ship, but they had All Bran, plus skim milk, lowfat yogurt, several fruit choices, and all the hot stuff—like eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, toast.

The kids had stayed up late at the Teen Club, so they were still sleeping when we got back. We decided to get off the ship and do a little shopping first, then come back for them later. The three of us got our photo taken as we disembarked.

By the way, I had no idea how many opportunities would exist for having professional photos taken. Not only did they do the candids (getting on the ship, having dinner in the Main Dining Room, around the pool, getting off the ship in Nassau), but they also had numerous staged settings around the ship all the time for professional portraits to be taken. There was no limit to how many pictures you could have taken, the only cost was if you decided to buy the finished photo in the photo gallery (we bought about all of ours).

We walked down the pier and there was a steel drum band playing music in a kiosk on the pier. When we left the pier, we were in a square where there were numerous people offering cab rides, tours, hair-braiding. We just walked onto the main street and shopped. We ended up at the Straw Market, which was like a local craft flea market. They were selling hand carved items, baskets, batiks, T-shirts, jewelry, shells. They bargain for prices, which some people liked but I’m not really fond of. A man was carving a large block of wood, which was interesting, but ultimately, I didn’t buy anything. I was almost overwhelmed by the number of vendors and too many choices. It’s hard to browse when the seller is sitting right there and starts making a deal whenever you try to look at anything. The best thing I saw, though, was a carved turtle where the head and tail were attached separately and they moved in the breeze, making it look like it was alive.

We then went back to the ship to get the kids. My husband and I decided to go to the beach, while my sister and the girls were going to do the hair-braiding and the boys were going to wander around the shops. My sister told us where to walk to find the beach, but either we were lost or she was mistaken. We did find a local beach, but I don’t think it was The Beach. This was just a patch of sand, rather rocky and not very clean, between two rusted cement pilings jutting into the water. I think I was nearly the only female on the beach—there were a few local kids around and one other tourist couple in the water. The other tourist couple had about three local kids hanging around them (at first I thought they must all be together), but every so often someone would come walking through the beach area, alone, not intending to swim, with a bag under his arm, and the couple got nervous about whether their stuff was safe, and the kids were bothering them, so they left after about 15 minutes of our arrival. Then the kids latched onto us, began asking really personal questions, trying to get us to go under the water. My husband became suspicious that they were trying to distract us so someone could get our stuff, and we left after about 30 minutes. So much for enjoying the beach.

We stopped for a cold diet Coke at McDonald’s, then walked back to the square where we caught a taxi to Atlantis. This was the best! Atlantis is a resort hotel on Paradise Island (the cab was $4 per person, plus $1 for bridge toll). When we got there, someone asked the driver where the beach was, and he told the guy to stay in the cab and he would take him there. (I wish we had let someone take us to The Beach.) We went into Atlantis, and they had glamorous shops, a hotel, a casino, and the coolest part was an aquarium all the way around the perimeter of the (fancy) restaurant. We came down the marble stairway and went around the aquarium looking at manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and hundreds of fish of all different kinds swimming in a tank which was set up to look like the bottom of an ocean with statues and pieces that looked like anchors or bits of a shipwreck. We took lots of pictures. Then we stopped at the casino for some slots. We shopped a little, then took a cab back to the square. We walked down the pier to the ship, and went in to get ready for the formal Captain’s Dinner.

Once again, the evening meal was splendid. This time I had the Nautica Spa selections again, which included gazpacho and Oven-Roasted Tom Turkey with a sugar-free Pumpkin Pie for dessert. Outstanding! What we didn’t know until later was that the wait staff were doing singing and dancing at the end of the meal. Just after we left, they were starting to sing “Funiculi, Funicula.” I was too self-conscious to go back, but I wish someone had told us that there would be entertainment after the meal.

We went to the Palace Lounge for the evening show. It started with Bingo ($10 for a card of three games)—we didn’t win the $500 prize, but it was fun. Then they had a round of the Newlywed Game. Three couples were selected—one married for 7 months, one for 8 years, one for 42 years—and they sat in chairs back to back with tablets to write their answers on. The Cruise Director led the game, and he made it very funny. After that they played a Scavenger Hunt for what was in people’s purses. I was one of the ones who went up to the stage. It was fun, but not what I expected. Each of three teams had about 8 members, a few of whom had purses. Those with purses emptied them onstage (not money or credit cards), and they gave the three teams points for finding things that they called out. It started out OK, but soon they were asking for things that would not be in a purse (like bras, or a pair of man’s pants), which caused some gameplayers to frantically start disrobing on stage. Then they had female team members leave the theater to find a man who would join the game for an unknown prank. When they found a man, they were told to take him to one of their cabins, dress him up as a woman, and bring him back, wrapped in a sheet. While it provided a certain entertainment value for those in the audience, I guess I wish I had understood the game a little better before playing. I don’t like games where people are surprised into doing things they might not want to do.

Afterwards, the evening’s entertainment program was Victor Zuniga, a juggler from Mexico, which was to be followed by a comedian. However, the Cruise Director did a comedy warm-up act that was hilarious (including singing “More”—amorously—to an elderly woman he picked out in the audience who agreed to be his “girlfriend” during the song) and then announced that the comedian had taken ill and would be unable to perform. The juggler became the main act, and he was really talented. We didn’t even miss the comedian.

DAY 3—DAY AT SEA: We were supposed to be back on the ship by 7:30 am, and as usual, I awoke at dawn and decided to go up to watch our departure. This time, I got dressed first, then went to the deck behind the Coconut Grove Grill to watch. It was so peaceful and serene. I watched the stragglers return to the ship who stayed out all night (6 of them, plus a crew member who must have stayed in a hotel as he had a wheeled bag with him). I watched them prepare the ship for departure. And I watched as we pulled out of the port and left the island behind. I wished I had had a camera at that moment, but I had not thought to bring it with me.

We met for breakfast in the grill, and then relaxed awhile on deck. We spent the day on ship, checking for photos in the gallery, buying souvenirs in the shops, watching the ice carving on the Lido Deck by the pool and the man's hairiest chest contest. The best part was taking the galley tour of the kitchen, led by the Maitre D’, followed by a demonstration of how they created towel animals, napkin folding, food carvings, frosting roses, alcoholic drinks, and a demonstration of veal stroganoff. They were selling a recipe book and buffet/entertaining guide, which I bought as a set with their drink booklet for $25. The tour was too crowded, though—they should really have had more than one tour/demonstration.

Dinner that evening (Nautica Spa selection: Cornish Game Hen), was followed by a Conga line of waiters dancing to the song “Hot, Hot, Hot!” They were having enormous fun, some balancing fruit on their heads, and some diners joined them, while many of us were snapping photos. I really enjoyed that.

The after dinner show was “Broadway,” a tribute to several Broadway shows, like West Side Story, Carousel, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, and Phantom of the Opera. Afterwards, we hung around waiting until the Midnight Buffet. They opened in Sensation for photographing at 11:15 pm, and began serving in Imagination at 11:30 pm. The creativity of the buffet itself was nothing short of incredible. They had carved everything out of food items, from birds made of squash and carrots, to flowers made from radishes and turnips. They had carved watermelon with seahorse designs, fantasy cakes, ice sculptures (dragons, swans, eagles), fruit of all kinds, cheese, pate, salmon mousse, smoked salmon in floral shapes—wow!! Most of us didn’t know what we were taking on our plates, and when we sat down, some were less than enthused by the gourmet flavors. They ushered us to particular tables, in order, and we were sitting with a couple who got to laughing about the woman who didn’t like anything on her plate. They felt it looked better than it tasted. I, however, seemed to be the only one who thoroughly loved the exotic foods and unique flavors. Everyone, though, liked the desserts—mango pudding with a chocolate beehive topping, strawberry mousse with candied topping, chocolate torte, cheesecake.

DAY 4—DISEMBARKING: We put out our luggage the night before leaving, and vacated our cabins after breakfast at 8:15 am. We went to our assigned waiting area in the Promenade Deck hallway, but unfortunately our color was last to be called. We waited over 2 hours to get our turn to stand in line and get through customs. Once we finally got there, it wasn’t bad, but they should have provided some form of entertainment for those who were going to be there the longest. If they knew that green and purple were to be called last, they could have put those people in the Palace Lounge and let them play Bingo, or at least had some music to listen to, or a magician working the crowd for tips—something! The rest of the cruise they were very good at offering all types of activities, but the final morning was a long wait, smelling other people’s cigarette smoking, watching kids lift the mannequins dress up, etc.

Altogether the cruise was superb. I would highly recommend the cruise to anyone.

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