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Buddy

Age: 34

Occupation:Naval Officer

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Fascination

Sailing Date: NOT FOUND

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Cruise Line: Carnival
Sailing Date: February 3rd, 2003


Let me preface this review with a basic overview of our family type to give you some perspective of our opinions. There are five of us – me (34), my wife (33), my thirteen-year-old son, my 10-year-old son, and my four-year-old daughter. My wife and I are both originally from Iowa and currently live in Virginia since I am in the Navy as a submarine officer. I will be honest, we tried really hard to book a Disney cruise at the last minute due to my job (hard to plan ahead in my business) but found Disney completely booked for two months and so we apprehensively chose Carnival as a second option. In short, we had a blast on our first cruise ever and are already planning our next one. Carnival worked out to be a great choice for us and we would definitely choose them again, although I will probably choose another cruise line just to experience some variety. I will give Carnival an honest review and hopefully some other young family can benefit from it. I used the Internet extensively in preparing for the great unknown of a first-time family cruise and I hope to provide some lessons learned.

Cruise Arrangements
We used a travel agent and found that we got roughly the same deal that everyone else onboard did. Many of the people we met had booked online and were just as satisfied as we were. The travel agent merely provided some peace of mind for my wife and I since this was our first cruise ever. When I do it again, I will book it online after researching the ship. Not all cruise ships are created equal and I think that an important part of the selection is to find a ship that has all of the amenities that you want. We did not do this and I think that if we had it to do over again we would have probably chosen a newer/larger ship. Instead, we told the travel agent that we wanted a four/five day cruise to the Western Caribbean and she came back and quoted us a price on the “FASCINATION” out of Miami. The quote was for $1409 for two staterooms (there were no more cabins available that sleep five and our cruise ship was fully booked) we had 6A cabins in Riviera Fwd with an ocean view. My wife and I both agree that we will never do a cruise without an ocean view since we both loved it so much. Overall the ship was always clean and neat and I felt it was nicely done. The mannequins have gotten bad reviews from everyone but they didn’t bother me that much, I thought they were silly looking. I felt that the ship was well maintained and looked good for an eight-year-old ship.

Pre-Cruise Travel
We flew from Norfolk to Ft Lauderdale on Southwest on Sunday morning (2/2/03) and rented a car and drove to South Beach. We rented from Budget (49.99) and drove to our hotel the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza Resort. I got this four star hotel from Priceline.com for $75 and it was immaculate. Way too immaculate for a simple man with three kids. I thought the hotel was great but it catered to upscale couples, definitely not for kids. We still had a great time but didn’t really feel comfortable with the kids. On the positive side it was a block away from Ocean Drive and we spent Sunday night walking ocean drive shopping and eating at a great Cuban Café. As usual our family made the best of it and made it a great time. I would recommend the Roney Palace Beach Resort, which was only a few blocks up the street and seemed more family friendly. It also has a Budget dealer there to turn in the rental vehicle. On Monday morning - Cruise Day - we got up, ate breakfast across the street and did some last minute shopping, went to the supermarket and bought the soft drinks we wanted to carry on board. I turned in the rental vehicle at Roney Palace, walked back to my hotel and the whole family took a taxi over to the port at 11:30 a.m. I recommend arranging a transfer with Carnival and not renting a vehicle if possible. I spent well over $100 dealing with the vehicle and only drove it for 30 minutes. A transfer from Ft Lauderdale to Miami with Carnival is only $75 and less of a headache. I used their transfer for the return trip to Ft Lauderdale.

Embarkation
Ensure that your travel documents are filled out prior to arriving at the port since it is near pandemonium with everyone arriving at nearly the same time. Also ensure the baggage tags that Carnival gives you are already on your luggage and filled out. We jumped out of the taxi and within 30 seconds baggage handlers and Carnival employees had our luggage and were directing us inside to the terminal. We walked in and passed through security and then checked in. We showed them our filled out travel documents and were making our way to the ship within 5 minutes. The process was fast and professionally done by Carnival (as long as you come prepared it will be a painless experience). I recommend getting there early, our time seemed perfect and the ship is open with dining etc as soon as you board. We were on the ship by 12:30 pm, found our cabins immediately, and then went and had a leisurely lunch at the Coconut Grove restaurant. My only complaint was that we expected a pull down bed for my four-year daughter in our stateroom and there was none. There wasn’t even a bed for her at all when we first arrived. I immediately called the info desk and they had a rollaway bed sent down. Not the best since it got in the way a bit and made the stateroom seem somewhat cramped at times but it in no way deterred us from having fun. My feeling is that ocean view rooms don’t have pull down bunks and that they are only available in the inner rooms without a view. We gladly traded a rollaway bed to have a room with an ocean view.

Dining
The part that made my wife and I the most nervous was what to bring for the dining room. We did not want to be underdressed but we didn’t want to pack a lot of useless clothes either. Basically anything goes like the brochure says except for shorts and T-shirts except for our night in Cozumel where the dress is causal and anything goes in the dining room. We went out and bought our boys new clothes just for this trip and it was not necessary although they did enjoy dressing up. We wore shirts and ties every night (I added a sport coat on formal night) and we were definitely among the nicer dressed people in the dining room. Don’t sweat it, there are all types onboard and the main thing is to have fun. I do recommend dark colored clothing for formal night. Some tuxedos were there but most men wore dark suits or sport coats and the women ranged the same. The most memorable experience from our cruise is from the dining room so I encourage everyone, even those with kids to eat in the formal dining room and don’t give in to the temptation to stick to casual and eat in the other restaurants onboard. Carnival also did a great job of pairing up dinner partners. The other folks at our table were also a family of five from Chicago and we got along great and spent most of the cruise doing things together. Our dining room stewards (Joaquim from India and Wayan from Indonesia) were OUTSTANDING in every way. The best I have seen and I have been to a lot of fancy Black Tie dinners being a Naval Officer. They were great with the kids and were professional in every way. Fun Fun Fun!!! I left them both a big tip and they deserved every penny of it. The food was great I had everything from Escargot to Filet Mignon and loved it all. They also had a kid’s menu with the standard Cheeseburger, Pizza, and Chicken Nuggets for the little ones.

Ports
Key West is beautiful and is, basically, a shopping excursion because of the limited time in port. We didn’t enjoy it all that much and would have rather had more time in Cozumel. It was neat to walk around for a couple of hours but nothing memorable. Cozumel is a paradise! We took a taxi to Chankanaab Beach for $10 - a National Park in Mexico. The admission was an additional $10.00 US per person - (children 8 and younger are free). There is a beach, with AWESOME snorkeling opportunities, a jungle trail with Mayan ruins, a lagoon, swimming with dolphins, a Sea Lion Show, and great tropical drinks you can drink out of coconuts or pineapples. The shad cabanas are free, with lounge chairs underneath. They rented snorkel equipment for $6 a set and also had scuba gear available. We had a terrific time and got some great pictures. We spent the entire afternoon snorkeling and had a blast. This is a tropical paradise! Carnival offers a lot of shore excursions and they seemed a bit pricey since the Swim with dolphins was $85 a person and it took place at the same place, Chankanaab Beach, that we went to on our own for a lot less money. The shore excursions are probably a little more convenient and for younger couples, looking for adventure, they may be worth it, but for a family guy I found it easy to go it on my own. Taxis were abundant and no problem at all. I spent the day at Chankanaab for $68 with taxi, vice the $200-$400 I would have spent with Carnival. Later that evening, we took the kids to eat on the ship and then took a taxi to downtown Cozumel, $6, to shop. This was also a fun time. My boys wanted to barter with the locals for souvenirs and they got their wish. Don’t pay the asking price for anything. We argued and delayed and drove down the price on everything we bought. There is also a lot more commercialism here than I expected but still a fun time. Really hard to tell if you are actually getting a good deal since it is so commercialized, lots of jewelry stores (Diamonds, Emeralds, Tanzanite, etc.) but not at what I thought of as rock bottom prices but I am no expert jeweler. Our only regret was that we didn’t have more time in Cozumel. We lost some time since the ship had to anchor out due to port loading and we had to take small water taxis (free) to the island which was slow and we didn’t get Cozumel until nearly 2:00 PM although the ship arrived at 12:00 PM. We had to be back onboard by 10:30 PM ship time and we definitely felt rushed to get all of our shopping done on time. If I had it to do over again, I would not have come back to the ship for dinner but would rather eat in town and save time.

Cabin
We were on the Riviera Fwd deck. We had an ocean view window with both cabins and loved it, maybe a verandah next time but not with the kids. The spaciousness is fine but remember I am used to a submarine. Actually we were amazed at how much room we did have and it was always clean and comfortable. If a family of five goes on a cruise to spend their time in a cabin, then they may want to re-consider! Our Cabin Steward kept the cabin clean - each time we left, he serviced it, but we did not find him to be very friendly – I never even met him and although he did his job, he never really interacted with us and was impossible to get a hold of. We tried continuously to call him to get a lifejacket for my four year old and never succeeded. One of the only disappointments on the trip since I had read from previous cruise reviews that the room stewards help make the cruise experience more fun. He did make cute animals out of the towels every night while he turned down the beds. We only left him a small tip- other than what we already put on our Sail & Sign Card - because he just didn't impress us. I do appreciate Carnival's attention to detail in the cabins - even with a sold-out ship!

Photos

One of the fun things for us was the photography. Our family is always on the go and we rarely take time to get the whole family in the picture. Carnival uses every opportunity possible to snap family photos and we ended up buying a bunch. The quality - though not really studio quality - is good and worth the $19.95 charge for an 8 x 10.

Camp Carnival
We never used the services that Camp Carnival provided and it seemed that most of the kids onboard also chose to do their own thing. As we look back on it, we were so busy doing stuff as a family that we don’t even know when our kids would have used it. The only time it would have been convenient would have been the night we went to the Casino. The activities seemed a little too simple for the kids and my boys did not seem interested at all so I did not force it on them. They also spent a few hours at the onboard video arcades; they had two that were pretty good. Bring lots of quarters. Most of the time was spent poolside using the waterslide or ping-pong tables. The fourteen-year-old boy that was at our dinner table used Camp Carnival extensively and seemed to have a good time. I think that Carnival could probably improve a bit in this area but it did not affect the good time that we had, our kids had a blast just hanging with mom and dad poolside or throughout the ship.

Onboard Activities

I thought that Carnival did a great job at keeping things lively on the ship. There was always something to do and we were on the go for four days. We kept so busy that the week flew by and we were exhausted by the time we got home. The only complaint my kids had was that they were excluded from directly participating in any of the activities not associated with Camp Carnival, all regular shipboard activities were for 18 and older which is understandable from Carnival’s point of view but probably gives a cruise line like Disney the edge for families. I used the exercise facilities religiously to work off all the food that I ate. They track topside was nice and fun to jog on at-sea. The weight room was nice also and had plenty of equipment and was never crowded when I was there. The two Las Vegas style revues were good; not my thing but my wife and four year old daughter loved them. I enjoyed the comedians and even took the kids to the family night comedy routine.

Debarkation
Don’t rush, Carnival tells you to get to your designated area by 0830 but we ate a leisurely breakfast and got there at 0900 and did just fine. We were off the ship by 1000. The luggage was in a big warehouse separated by tag color and it was a bit of confusing finding it all but not bad. Customs was a breeze and we were on a Carnival provided bus to Ft Lauderdale airport ($15 each) in a matter of minutes.

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