Carnival Fantasy is the first cruise ship to be based year-round in Charleston
After a five-night voyage in June onboard the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy, the first year-round cruise ship based in Charleston, SC, we came away confident that if you’re in search of first-time cruisers, you’ll find them there.
Clientele: The guests we encountered on the 70,000-ton Carnival Fantasy hailed in large part from the Carolinas, Georgia and north Florida. Many drove to the port and told us they were staying a day or two post-cruise in Charleston. Guests ranged from young couples to young families with children, from baby boomers to small multigenerational family groups. And yes, there were elderly travelers as well, including 75-year-old twins we met at the muster drill.
Ship Matters: Launched in 1990, Carnival Fantasy received a multimillion-dollar “Evolutions of Fun” renovation in a month-long 2008 drydock. The ship appears fresh; we had sailed on it back in 2009 and felt Carnival had kept the carpeting and public decor in good stead. Cabins and suites feature the comfortable Carnival Comfort bedding system with plush mattresses, comfortable duvets, fluffy pillows and high-quality sheets and linens.
Some architectural elements—such as the atrium’s blue neon and the red metallic trim in our cabin—reflect an earlier era in cruising. But guests will also discover such new features as a top-deck Carnival WaterWorks area; resort-style pool area; 12,000-square-foot spa with soothing decor and workout center; an adults-only Serenity sunning and relaxation area with whirlpools; and an Internet café.
This ship has 28 Penthouse Suites, 26 Suites and 566 oceanview cabins, plus 389 interior twin cabins and 19 cabins with upper and lower beds. Penthouse accommodations and the oceanview twins and interior twins have two beds convertible to king beds. The suites have queen beds.
The Wow Factor: We’d have to say “value” is the wow, with five-night cruise fares starting as low as $380 per person double for early 2011 sailings. The fare includes meals, entertainment and other perks, such as a free supervised kids’ program and complimentary room service. If clients use fiscal restraint—by not buying every onboard revenue enticement the line promotes—they’ll likely enjoy an affordable, value-packed vacation. Camp Carnival is the kids’ program for those ages 2-11. Circle C is for kids 12-14, while Club 02 is for teens, 15-17.
Top Table: We’d have to give the Jubilee and Celebration main dining rooms our Top Table designation as the cuisine was excellent every night. Entrees included fresh fish, lobster, prime rib, veal parmigiano, lamb, chateaubriand and much more.
We highly recommend the lobster bisque as well as the escargot. When it came to ordering dessert, Carnival’s signature melting cake enticed most guests at our table.
Onboard, both assigned and independent dining options are available
The Jubilee is for assigned dining, and Celebration accommodates both assigned diners and independent diners who don’t want a set dining time. We also enjoyed Windows on the Sea, the ship’s casual buffet restaurant. At lunch, one serving line featured hot American fare, the other international cuisine such as Mexican or French. Guests also gravitate to separate salad and dessert stations, a separate pizzeria area (open 24 hours), a deli, and multiple soft-serve ice-cream machines.
Outside on the covered pool deck, guests lined up in droves for the tasty build-your-own Mongolian Grill entree. A separate serving station had burgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers, fries, corn-on-the-cob and grilled mushrooms and onions. On the last day at sea, Windows on the Sea served chocolate fondue; passengers dipped doughnut holes or fruit skewers in hot chocolate sauce.
Rating the Digs: My oceanview room was among the most spacious I’ve had on any ship in this cabin category. Excellent storage space encompassed closets, drawers and shelves. Luggage slid easily beneath the bed. A tiny table-like curved vanity area and large mirror provided a good spot for putting on makeup or working on a laptop. A safe guarded valuables like wallets or passports. The bed was comfortable, particularly the soft sheets and duvets.
The neutral-decor bathroom had a very large shower, much larger than on other ships. Handy shower dispensers provided shampoo and body wash. The vanity desk had American (110 volt) and European plugs. A new flat-screen TV with satellite channels was mounted atop a corner of the room.
Among the pluses were the size of the cabin, storage space, the bathroom, the soundproofing, comfortable bedding and good lighting. However, daytime seating was a bit inadequate; a backless stool and another dining-room-like chair were not comfortable seating. Also, we didn’t like the somewhat tacky lighted panel under the TV—it appeared dated.
Hot Spots: The resort-style pool deck with its palm tree-like structures and musical stage was the ultimate hot spot for live music and good times. Guests laughed during the hairy chest contest or drink-mixing competition. That said, kids may argue that the Carnival WaterWorks on the top deck was the best hot spot with its 300-foot-long water slide, 82-foot-long dual racing slides and a splash zone.
We enjoyed the Egyptian look of the aptly named Cleopatra Bar, and observed couples hitting the floor at Electricity, the ship’s dance club. Via Marina is the perfect spot for pre-dinner drinks and people watching; it boasts Roman decor of mosaic-like flooring, columns and statuaries.
Nooks and Crannies: Sun worshippers who want less frenetic activity should avoid the main pool deck and head up a deck or two. Even there they’ll find lounge chairs, receive bar service from waiters and hear the live music.
Separately, adults may head for the Serenity area (no kids allowed) with both sun and shade relaxation areas, two whirlpools and bar service.
Locating it isn’t easy; it’s behind the Majestic Bar and a room used for art auctions. It’s not marked well; we asked three staffers where it was but only one could help. But when you do arrive, you’ll find an enclave of relaxation.
Fantastic Fun: Carnival delivers fun with three-minute makeovers, a marriage game show, Carnival laser tag, best bartender contest, jackpot bingo, dance classes, karaoke, slot tournaments, and entertainment shows, including a Fabulous Four production show focused on the Beatles.
Many guests loved the late-night, uncensored adult comedy as well as sailaway and deck parties. Runners may take a few laps on the one-eighth mile jogging track. Adults and kids may hit the links on a nine-hole miniature golf course. Golfers may take shipboard lessons within a covered, lighted “driving range.”
Itinerary and Ports: Arrive early for your cruise if you’re parking your car. The arrival-by-car process is time-consuming. You motor along in weaving lanes to the document control tent, then to the luggage offload tent and then to the car parking lot before finally boarding a shuttle to the terminal for check-in.
Carnival Fantasy’s five-night itinerary calls at Freeport and Nassau. Six-night voyages call at those ports plus Key West. Seven-night voyages feature Grand Turk, Nassau and Half Moon Cay. In 2011, the line will add a series of Bermuda cruises.
Editor’s Gleanings: Service was excellent; the crew members seemed happy and the dozens of them we met—with only one exception—greeted us pleasantly.
I never tire of the crew “dancing in the dining room,” a Carnival signature feature; guests clap, sway and sing along to such songs as “That’s Amore.” It’s a simple concept that delivers smiles.
One pet peeve: My cabin didn’t have a hair dryer, an amenity most budget hotels in America have. Sure, the cabin steward provided one but these should be added as a standard cabin amenity. But overall, I loved my Fantasy cruise.
The resort-style pool deck serves as the adult hot spot aboard Carnival Fantasy