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.
Arriving: This trip was paid for through a company in Spain since that is where my parents reside. I flew from Jacksonville, Fl via Miami to San Juan. They flew from Madrid, Spain. Luckily, our flights landed within 15 minutes of each other. I assumed that I would go to the Carnival grouping area to get to the ship. Unfortunately, this was wrong. The girls in the airport were nothing short of rude when I tried to find out where I had to be. I had a 4 month old in a backpack on my back and a 4 yr old running around, and they were not helpful at all. Ihad to ask them to help me find my way and beg a porter to help me with my bags. Luckily, the person I was supposed to meet was right outside, so I didn't have to go far. Then this young man took us to the other part of the airport where my family had landed. We had a nice reunion right there in the parking lot. I had not seen my brothers in 3 years, and my mother in a year and a half.
Embarkation: 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.
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.
Dining: 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.
Nightlife: 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.
Ports-of-call: 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.
Camp Carnival: 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.
Disembarkation: 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.
Final Moments: 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.
We sailed from San Juan on March 11, 2000. As we were already in Puerto Rico for business, we took a taxi from our hotel at 2:00 pm and we arrived at the port around 3:00 pm. We decided to carry our luggage with us, which was recommended by another person on this web site. Even if the ship was full (it was Spring Break), it took no time to get to our cabin (with window) on the main deck. We met our cabin steward, Juan Pichardo, who provided outstanding service during our cruise.
Our first stop was St. Thomas. We took a cab to Charlotte Amalie, where we bought souvenirs. Then we took another cab to Sapphire Beach, which was very nice and not too crowded. Beautiful view of St. John. We ate by the resort's pool. On the way back we stopped by the duty free shops close to the Havensight Mall. You can get a liter of Tanqueray for $8.00!
In St. Marteen, we took a cab to Marigot, the French capital. The taxi driver was rude and did not give us the promised discount after another couplejoined us for the ride. Marigot was much nicer than Philipsburg, where we stopped on our way back. It helps to speak French, but everybody is nice and speaks English. We took a cab from Marigot to Orient Beach, where we had lunch by the ocean. The beach is beautiful. Plenty of cabs are available to go back to the ship. The other cab drivers were very nice to us and did not overcharge us.
After reading about Dominica, we decided to follow the recommendation of people on this site and organized our own tour. It cost us $25 per person on the Lybo's tour. We found the twin brothers and once we got 2 other couples to join us, off we went in our air-conditioned bus with a young guide and the driver. If you have more people on that bus, it could get uncomfortable. They took us to Trafalgar Falls, Emerald Pool and the Botanical Garden. The roads are very narrow and you go up and down the hills for several hours...dramamine is recommended! The tour guides were great.they made the trip fun!
In Martinique we took a cab to downtown. Cabs are very expensive, but you will be riding in a Mercedes. As most of the shops were not yet open, we took the ferry to Pointe du Bout. A lot of locals recommended the beach at the Sofitel Hotel. It's very nice until lunch when hundreds of people from the ship arrive! Then you are like sardines. The beaches at the Pointe du Bout are not natural. The Sofitel beach is entertaining as you can buy shirts and bathing suits presented on the beach by young models. We left the beach after lunch and went back to Fort-de-France where we shopped for a couple of hours.
We booked the 2:30 pirate tour of the Jolly Roger in Barbados. In the morning we took a cab to visit part of the island. Be careful with most of the cab drivers, they will overcharge you. Don't go straight to the cab area, stop by the Tourist Office, where we spoke with Ms. Parris. She recommended a driver. His name is Southbert Warthe. For half the price he drove us to Harrison's Cave, the Atlantic Ocean and Sam Lord's castle. We had a great time thatnks to Southbert. He is very friendly and honest. We were back on the ship by lunch to fill our stomachs before the Jolly Roger tour. A lot of young people were aboard each of the two pirate ships. This may have been the highlight of the cruise.this was just too much fun. We were careful with the rhum and were able to attend dinner. A lot of tables stayed empty that night!
On Saturday, we took the 3 hour Old San Juan tour. Our flight back was at 3:30, but we heard that the people who have a tour are the first one off the ship. They were right. Customs took no time and we started the tour at around 9:00 am. Our bus driver/guide was fantastic. His name is Rafael Reyes. He owns his bus and knows the city inside out. He took us to the fort, to Old San Juan. He stopped at a great sandwich place for lunch. On our way to the airport we stopped by the El San Juan Hotel and Casino and by the beach. I would definitely recommend asking around and seeing if you can find Rafael, as he loves his island and the tourists that visit it!
We really enjoyed our cruise. The ship was full (it was Spring Break), but the staff was fantastic. The food was outstanding considering the number of meals served. We had six people on our table. The service was good, but we could have used an extra busboy. We would definitely recommend this cruise. Great ship, great service and outstanding port of calls.
We sailed on the Fascination on January 15th, it was our first cruise.
Embarkation: Getting on the ship was not too bad. We are Canadians living in the USA, so we had to undergo the passport seizure deal. Because we booked guaranteed outside cabin, we didn't know what cabin we were in, so when they took our passports, they had to go look it up for us. We were assigned to Riveria 51, back some from the front, right by the elevators. We went up to our cabin to change out of our travelling clothes and into relaxation clothes. Luggage arrived in three separate batches, pretty good considering the luggage didn't have a room number on it.
First Impressions: Well, the room was.... Orange... not my favorite color, but it was tolerable. As we entered our room, our steward (Pierre) came by and introduced himself. I had him push the beds together (why can't they sheet the beds as a Queen or whatever, grrrr). We went and explored our home for the next week.
The Fascination is truly impressive when you see the atrium. Pretty dramatic. We wandered around the ship and foundthe dining rooms, bars, spa, pools, etc. I am still in awe of how many things can be on a ship!
The Journey: Not being experienced cruisers, we have no idea how much motion is "normal" when the ship is underway. Our first and second nights had serious rocking motions (even crew members admitted to being a bit pale from it). After that, it seemed to settle down somewhat. I found that the more gentle motion in the evening was very soothing, pretty much rocked me to sleep.
Meals: The dinners in the main dining rooms were surprisingly good! We were assigned to the early seating (despite requesting late) and decided to forgo the battle to get moved. We didn't realize until later in the trip, that the early seating guaranteed that you wouldn't be able to see a sunset. Lesson learned, next time we'll see about getting moved. We were seated at a large table (10 person) which I think is a good thing, much more opportunity to find interesting people at your table. Surprisingly, we were the only people at our table to drink, which was a bit awkward at times. Our waiter and busboy were OK, but not what I would consider really attentive. We did try a breakfast and a lunch in the main dining rooms, but didn't find that the food quality, etc. was much different than the casual grill.
The pizza place on the ship served up surprisingly good pizza, although at times (i.e. after shows), the line ups could be a bit much. The grill served a reasonable breakfast, including made while you wait omelets. I wish that they would have changed the breakfast menu from day to day. Lunches from the grill were surprisingly flavorful. Sweet and sour pork was worth two trips through the line. The salad bar, although quite limited in ingredients, was stocked with perfectly fresh veggies. The ice cream/frozen yogurt machines seemed to operate at all times. We did show up to a couple of midnight buffets, just to view more than anything. The "gala midnight" buffet was a true work of art. Very impressive to see.
The Ports: This cruise hits five ports in five days. Having a window is a great way to wake up, sun shining a new island in view. In some ways, there is a disadvantage to this many ports in that we never got the chance to really know a place. I didn't realize until late in the trip (I overheard someone else talking) that between most of the ports, the actual travel time is very insignificant and that they ship basically circles out in the ocean for hours so that it arrives in the morning. Makes me wonder why we always departed before sunset if this is indeed true. Maybe one of the quirks of cruising.
San Juan: We started and ended here. On the way in, we went directly to the ship and never left. When we disembarked, we did manage to have an hour or two to walk through old San Juan. I think that I'd like to go back to Puerto Rico again to explore for an extended period.
St. Thomas: Yep, the duty free shopping port of the world. Jewelry store after jewelry store. We did end up wandering through the stores, returning to the ship when the stores closed (1:00 PM, it was a Sunday). Unfortunately the sky chose to cloud over and rain a little bit, so we cancelled our planned trip to a beach. I think that we would make a beach stop the higher priority next time.
St. Maarten: We did the Golden Eagle catamaran trip. It was fabulous, the crew was ultra friendly and focused on serving the passengers. The day was perfect for sailing and it was a fabulous trip. Unfortunately, high winds prevented us visibility in the water. Between the "very open bar" and great service, we arrived back at port in a condition that made walking difficult. God protects drunks and children, so we made it back to our ship OK. Unfortunately this was the first formal night, so we didn't get too much opportunity to sleep it off before we had to get dressed for dinner.
Dominica: I have no idea why the cruise ships stops here. Having read relatively poor reviews of the tours offered of the island, we chose to walk around the limited town for a while. Not much happening. People that took tours to the Emerald Pool all came back uniformly disappointed.
Martinique: Having read a lot of criticism of this island (expensive, poor attitudes) we didn't expect much. We were pretty pleasantly surprised. We spent some time touring the fort which was pretty interesting (note, lots of stair climbing, may not be suitable for elderly, etc). We walked around the surprisingly cosmopolitan down town. People in general were friendly (although a group bath wouldn't have hurt), and we spend a lot of time just checking out the sites. I thought was interesting that a lot of the public monuments had bilingual story boards, very nice. Martinique did seem expensive for some things (but when was the last time you rode in a new Mercedes cab), but overall exceeded our, admittedly, low expectations.
Barbados We weren't too impressed with the city itself. Just another city. We were annoyed by all the cabbies standing at the end of the dock trying to sell you tours. We found them annoying and overbearing. I'm sure that there is a lot of nice island here, just not found in the cruise zone.
Day at Sea: A full day under power on the ocean. Other than some crowding in the afternoon on the sun decks, it was pretty good. We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of "reserved" chairs on the deck. We spent most of our day on the deck.
The Shows, etc: Well, to be honest, I was disappointed in the overall quality of the entertainment. I'm sure that it is difficult to stage really complex stuff due to limited space. There were a couple of reasonable comedians. The piano bar was a happening place; "Pete" seems to know the most risque variations of lyrics for most songs. A fun time was had. Several of the bars seemed to be empty almost all the time. We did visit the casino a time or two. I probably would have stayed longer and played more if there were a smoke free section.
Disembarkation: OK, after a week or so of being pretty mellow and reasonably well taken care of, this is a rude shock to the system. We had to be in the Passage to India lounge at 6:15 to get our passports and clear immigration. For those of you that have never had the pleasure, this was very poorly laid out (they use a door way between bars to thin the line down to one person at a time). I was surprised how many non-Americans were on the ship. After getting our passports, we stopped by the Delta desk to get boarding passes for our flight(very handy). Then off to a lounge to sit for hours until we were allowed to disembark (10:30). I can understand that Carnival needs to clean and prepare the ship for the next group of cruisers, but banishing everybody to lounges to sit just doesn't seem sensible. Once you get off of the ship, its time to root around to find your luggage and then drag it to the other end of the building to go through customs. I don't even think that customs reads the custom form, they just waved everybody through. Once you get outside, you get to walk the length of the building again to get to the airline luggage trucks. A great service, but do we really need to keep moving our luggage up and down the street?
The Flight Home: Given the early rising in order to get our passports, the endless sitting around in the Palace lounge waiting to disembark and a three hour layover in Atlanta, we were not prepared for a 3 1/2 hour wait for de-icing once we were on the plane and pushed back from the jetway. Delta should be tarred and feathered for the way they treat people in these sorts of situations.
The Good: Overall food quality Cleanliness The cabin size was more than adequate, with lots of closet and bathroom space The towel animals Always having a fresh bucket of ice in the room The kids program (just assuming on this one, but the kids on board all seemed happy and well behaved (never heard a screaming or crying child), even in the dining room. More than once we heard a kid pleading to be taken back to the camp instead of staying with their parents). Reasonably lax enforcement of the liquor brought on board policy Overall ambiance of the ship (yes, it is Las Vegas glitz, maybe I have no taste).
The Neutral: Service in general was not overwhelmingly good or bad Shows and entertainment Casualness - I chose to wear a tux on formal nights (I happen to own one, so I do wear it when the opportunity presents itself.), unfortunately, some people chose not to even wear jackets. BUT, I tried to keep an open mind and remember that this is everyone's vacation, and if somebody doesn't want to dress up, that's up to them).The Poor: Charging for soda pop. Elevators that don't seem to react to the call buttons being pushed. Art(?) auctions Limited hours for the library (sorry, I like to read, it would have been nice for it to be open for more than one hour a day) The pitches for stores on the islands, disguised as "important information" sessions. Disembarkation (AKA cattle call)Email: firstname.lastname@example.org