Myself and a party of 7 just returned from a 5 night cruise on the Fascination out of Jacksonville, Florida.
First of all, our party consisted of my wife and myself, our two daughters (21 and 18), and 3 of our youngest daughter's friends (18,18, and 17) all housed in 3 separate cabins.
While my family has been on multiple cruises, this was the first cruise for my daughter's friends.
On the positive side, with the exception of the ship's funnel (on which the red had faded to an ugly pink), the ship was in very good condition. The public rooms, outside deck areas, as well as the staterooms were well maintained and kept very clean. Also, stateroom and dining room service was very good.
Overall, the staff was very friendly and went out of their way several times to accommodate and educate our inexperienced "cruise virgins". Just to clarify, when I say "staff", I'm referring to crew members who knew they wouldn't get an extra gratuity for the services they rendered...such as waiters during open sitting, customer service reps at the Purser's desk, and one notable room steward (not the one assigned to our guests' room) who became our immediate advocate when a breaker tripped in a stateroom and our assigned steward was on break.
The overall positive attitude of the crew earns high marks in my view.
On the not-so-great side, the on-board entertainment was disappointing this time around. That's not to say they weren't immensely talented, but my caveat is more directed at the lack of variety in entertainment. For example, on night 2, the "Fascination Dancers" gave their typical Las Vegas style review in the main lounge. A part of that show was a very talented male singer who performed well. On night 3, this same male singer was the headline act (actually, the only act). On night 4, this same male singer was back on stage, again with the dancers. Again, the gentleman is very talented, but I don't need to see him 3 nights out of 5.
One last comment that falls into the "I'll remember that next time" category. When I booked the cruise for our 7 participants, I pre-paid everyones' gratuities as I felt, at the time, that it would simplify the process for our first-timers.
After boarding, I asked (out of curiosity) how could I adjust the amount of gratuity if service was not as expected. The response was somewhat surprising....I was told that I couldn't do this on the ship...that I would have to contact Carnival in Miami AFTER the cruise to try to get a refund. Fortunately, no action was needed on my part as service was better than expected, but I found it strange that Carnival encourages you to pre-pay, but doesn't offer any ship-board recourse if things go wrong during the cruise itself.
I commented to the cruise staff, that the lesson here is NOT to pre-pay as you seem to lose some control of the process by doing so. I was hoping that they would point out the error in my logic, but unfortunately, all they could do was nod in agreement.
At any rate, the negatives are small and are far outweighed by the positives. We had a great time and our "virgins" got off the ship yesterday with comments like, "That was awesome!!", "Can we come back with you guys next year??!!", and "That was a blast!"