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Carnival Trip Report: Day 1 On The Fascination



It’s been a while since I’ve sailed on one of Carnival Cruise Line’s Fantasy-class ships. In fact, my last Carnival trip report was filed from the Vista, which is just about as far as you can get from the Fascination, the ship I boarded this morning. While this particular ship did sail out of my homeport of Jacksonville for years, Carnival eventually switched things up, sending the Fascination to San Juan and having the Elation take her place. Interestingly, I haven’t had a chance to sail on the Elation — which just returned to duty following an extensive drydock — a great opportunity on a last minute sailing of the Fascination out of Port Canaveral was too good to pass up.

Kicking Off Our Carnival Trip Report

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So I was under the impression that the Fascination had undergone a Fun Ship 2.0 makeover before heading to San Juan… and as it turn out, that was not the case. While the ship is reportedly slated for a drydock and major renovation in 2018, the Fascination is still the same ship she was when last I had the chance to sail her. And to be honest, the ship is showing its age. Aside from not having the bells and whistles one associates with more modern (or recently updated) Carnival ships, the carpet is showing its age in some of the public areas and the ship overall doesn’t have quite the razzle-dazzle of its more modern counterparts.

carnival trip report

That said, there’s something sort of charming about the experience of sailing on an older smaller ship. It’s like the ultimate Throwback Thursday to a time when being on the ocean and taking the time to relax was the name of the game, which make this the perfect ship for my four-night cruise to Freeport and Nassau. Now, I know that for a lot of people those ports are boring, but I’ve always been the type of cruiser who cares less about where the ship is going than the fact that I’m actually on a ship. Will I stay on the ship when we dock or go into port? Definitely… I always do. But given how often I’ve visited these particular ports in the past, it’s likely I’ll just do so for an hour or so as opposed to spending the entire day there.

The embarkation process in Port Canaveral is pretty streamlined thanks to the fact you can check-in online, so the only thing you have to do when you arrive is a quick passport check, have your photo taken, go through security and board the ship. The whole process took less than 15 minute. It helped that, with this only being a four-night cruise, I didn’t have any luggage to check. One carry-on bag, and I was good to go.

carnival trip report

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A lot of people were happy because this ship arrived from Jacksonville with no passengers, so the staterooms were ready as soon as we got on board. (I suspect the only people not happy about this were the ones who paid extra for Faster To The Fun passes, since one of the perks is getting both on board and into your staterooms first. But it didn’t impact me, so like they say… not my circus, not my monkeys!) I actually saw a few familiar faces from Jacksonville waiting to board, and it’s always nice to see some hometown faces.

The Good, The Bad & The Downright Rude

As you all know from experience, one of the best forms of entertainment on a cruise ship isn’t listed in the Fun Times: people watching. There was the guy walking around wearing a captain’s cap and proudly declaring, “I can’t wait to get liquored up!” And I was tempted to say something to the woman who threw her ice cream cone down on the staircase because she “didn’t want any more,” but again opted for the “Not my circus, not my monkeys” approach. (After all, does calling someone out on their rude behavior ever go well… especially when you’re then going to be trapped with that person on a ship for several days?)

Read More: See Deck Plans For Carnival Fascination

After a delay of about an hour — not that it mattered to me, as I was already enjoying my cruise — we set sail. There were some pretty strong winds out of the southeast, which meant we needed a couple tugboats to escort us out of the harbor. What a lot of people don’t realize is that even though a ship like the Fascination weighs many tons, when winds hit the side of the ship, they have the same effect as they would on the sail of a sailboat. I’m not certain what the maximum crosswind component is for using the thrusters on these older Fantasy-class ships, but the newer ships can go in a 35-knot wind.

I was scheduled for the 6 p.m. dinner seating, but opted to skip it in favor of taking photo during our delayed departure. So when I got hungry, I headed to the lido deck for a turkey wrap from the deli, some pizza and a dessert that I will probably regret later, but it was so good.

carnival trip report

It’s worth mentioning that Carnival’s brand ambassador, John Heald, is also on this sailing. Talk about a popular guy! Thanks to his devoted fans, he can’t go 10 feet without someone stopping him for a photo or a chat.

Tomorrow is a Fun Day at sea, which means the always popular sea day brunch. Day two of my Carnival Trip Report coming soon.

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Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista Trip Report: Day 5



Ever go to bed knowing something and then wake up having completely forgotten it? This morning, I woke up and, upon realizing we weren’t in a port, immediately wondered what had happened and why we were skipping Curacao. And then I remembered that — as I mentioned in yesterday’s trip report — we weren’t actually scheduled to arrive until mid-afternoon. You can now feel free to imagine me slapping my head and saying, “D’oh!” Homer Simpson style.

The Carnival Vista Secret Breakfast

Everyone talks about the “hidden gems” they discover when cruising. We pass the tips along to one another like precious heirlooms. Well, here’s one I’m going to give to you: When sailing on the Carnival Vista, if you want to grab breakfast without dealing with the buffet or a sit-down restaurant, head down to the Ocean Plaza.

Shhhh. Ocean Plaza’s breakfast is a secret!

Every morning, there’s a hot, self-service breakfast bar set up there with everything you could want, including beverages. And best of all, it’s rarely crowded, because it’s not listed as an option in the Fun Times, most people don’t know about it. (You’re welcome!)

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They had a big watch sale going on this morning, and I swung by to take a look. But I’ll admit right up front, I can never tell if these sidewalk-style sales are offering a good price or not. Obviously, I’d be terrible on The Price Is Right. (“Drew, I’d like to bid… one million dollars!”) A few months ago, I bought a watch while on the Carnival Liberty, mainly because mine had died while on vacation. It lasted about 30 days and then stopped working, deader than the proverbial door nail. So when I swung by the sale today, it was really more to window shop than buy… and some of these watches cost more than my car! Since I haven’t won the lottery or hit a jackpot in the casino, I’ll stick to the $3 ice cream sandwiches at Cherry On Top.

All Aboard The Party Bus

The Irie Tours party bus is both a bargain and a great time.

Once we arrived in port, we headed for what might be the last place I really expected to find myself: A party bus. That’s right, one of those wildly-colored buses with people hanging their heads out the window, waving and shouting. We’d booked the East Side Tour through Irie Tours, and it was… not at all what I expected. I mean that in the best possible way. For one thing, it was tamer than I expected while still being a total blast. For another, it was far cheaper than some other excursions. For $25, we were taken on a sight-seeing tour that included a stop at a liquor factory for a free tasting (including the famous Blue Curacao), some information about the various areas we passed through and a beach visit.

The tour includes a stop at a Curacao liquor factory.

There was also a cooler offering beer, soda and water and, again, this was all included in the $25 fee. I spoke with people on the ship who’d booked a similar tour which didn’t include beverages, and they were paying $69 per person. So once again, big score for the planned-his-own-excursion guy.
Timing wise, the tour couldn’t have worked out better. We arrived at the beach in time to swim for about an hour and then watch the sunset. Fortunately, the sun starts to set before 5 p.m. around here, so we got to soak it in, take some amazing pics and still be back to the ship in plenty of time.

Is there anything better than sunset on the beach?

It helps that the return trip is a lot quicker, because you’ve already done the sight-seeing thing. Our guide was fantastic, and we wound up giving him a nice tip. (Even better? He never actually pandered for tips, the way some drivers and guides do, which made me want to tip him even more!) You could tell this was a guy who genuinely loved his job. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person on that bus who found themselves thinking, “Hmm, maybe I could ditch it all, move here and drive a party bus… “
We opted to end the tour downtown instead of going back to the ship because we still had three hours until dinner, so we went shopping for a little bit. I figured this would give everyone else a chance to get back on the ship, allowing us to avoid the line. Well, turns out everyone else had the same idea — or was as reluctant as we were to leave — because we still had to wait in a 30-minute line when we decided it was time to board.

Service With A Smile

We were hitting the main dining room again tonight for dinner. I have to say that so far, the service in the dining room has been great. The three servers tending to our section are on their game and as nice as could be. You know that daily gratuity that people are always complaining about? These guys were earning every penny of it and more. I stuck with the “From The Grill” section of the menu tonight, going with a shrimp cocktail, salad and grilled salmon.

Dinner in the Carnival Vista’s main dining room.

Given some of the stuff I’ve been eating this week, it was good to walk away from the table feeling I’d chowed down on something at least relatively healthy! Plus, because we have the late seating, I didn’t want anything too heavy, because I’d be calling it a night once we finished eating.
I wanted to get a good night’s sleep, because I’m really psyched for tomorrow’s port. Why? Because the Carnival Vista will be arriving in Aruba. Ever hear the saying “Bring your scuba to Aruba?” Well, that’s my plan for tomorrow. So until then…
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Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista Trip Report: Day 4



We woke up to another gorgeous day as the Carnival Vista was sailing into the port of La Romana, which is on the coast of the Dominican Republic. (Although it’s the beaches that draw most tourists these days, it was golf which first put this area on the map, believe it or not!) The plan for today? An trip to an all-inclusive beach resort.

Carnival Vista arriving in the Dominican Republic.

I usually don’t book shore excursions through the ship, as I like the challenge that comes with putting my own ideal day together. Plus, I’m usually able to save a little money.  I know, I know, by not doing so I run the risk of being left behind… and I’ve seen it happen. So far, however, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid being one of those folks who runs down the pier, only to see the ship chugging into the distance.

Hitting The Beach

On this trip, however, I did book two different excursions through the ship, and La Romana was one of them. The all-inclusive beach day was $99 per person, and Carnival was running a promotion offering 10 percent off. Plus, if you used your Carnival Fun Points Mastercard, you got an additional 10 percent off, and this was one of those rare situations where they allowed you to combine the two promotions. That meant nearly $20 off each ticket, and chances are good I wouldn’t have been able to arrange an excursion for cheaper.

Palm trees, sunshine and sand… what more could anyone want?

When first we arrived at the resort, things were a little bit confusing. They basically dropped us off, gave us a wristband and pointed us in the general direction of the beach. But before long, we figured out the lay of the land — thanks to maps of the resort which indicated there were plenty of places to eat and drink. I’d put this particular beach up there with some of the best I’ve visited in the Caribbean, with sparkling white sand and that amazing blue water that you’ll never be able to describe to people who haven’t seen it for themselves. There were also four different pools, so there were definitely plenty of options where getting wet was concerned… which was important, because the sun was brutal! After about four hours at the resort, we took the 20-minute ride back to the ship.

Dinner On Board The Carnival Vista

 You’ll recall that last night, we had 9 p.m. dinner reservations, which was really late for me. Tonight was just the opposite, as we had 5:30 p.m. reservations at Cucina del Capitano, Carnival Vista‘s Italian eatery. You’ll also recall that in yesterday’s seablog, I mentioned that I’ve been eating far too much. Well, that trend definitely continued tonight. So for those keeping track, I added bread (which I usually try and avoid), mealballs, calamari, chicken parm, a side of eggplant parmigiana and a chocolate biscotti. The venue has a $15 cover charge, and it’s safe to say I got my money’s worth, even taking dessert back to the cabin to eat later.

Meatballs, anyone?

The Cruise Director on this sailing is Matt Mitcham, and it’s easy to see why the guy — who has been doing this for about 10 years now — is so ridiculously popular. He’s got great energy and is one of the funniest cruise director’s I’ve ever had the pleasure of sailing with. His winning charisma and quick wit were on display tonight during the Love & Marriage show. Let’s face it… pretty much anyone who has ever taken a cruise has seen this Newlywed Game knock off, so it’s up to the cruise director/host to keep it fresh. Tonight, the contestants were couples who’d been married for five months, 16 years and 60 years, respectively. And of course, given that the questions asked tend to border on the risque, it’s hysterical to hear the answers. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear a couple who’ve been married 60 years talk about their sex life, right? At one point, the husband admitted that he wished his wife would snore louder so he could tell she was still alive.  All of the couples were great sports, but it was the octogenarians — and Matt’s interactions with them — who made the show.
Given that there’s always something going on somewhere, I was very tempted to head to the lido deck for one of tonight’s parties. But being in the scorching Caribbean sun all day drained me, so I’m heading to bed early. We don’t arrive in Curacao until nearly 2 p.m. tomorrow, so that means we’ll be able to have a nice, relaxing morning. But right now, there are some nice swells on the ocean and the ship is doing a bit of rocking. I know even the slightest movement can throw some people’s systems out of whack, but for me, I’ll crawl into bed and feel like I’m being rocked to sleep. So until tomorrow…
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Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista Trip Report: Day 3



As everyone knows by now, the Caribbean islands hit by hurricanes earlier this year are slowly but surely bouncing back. Last month, while sailing on the Holland America Eurodam,I had the opportunity to visit several, including Grand Turk, which is where I’m returning today on the Carnival Vista.

Carnival Vista, docked at Grand Turk.

Returning To Grand Turk on the Carnival Vista

Even in the few weeks since last I was lucky enough to visit, you can see that progress is continuing to be made where the island’s recovery is concerned. The areas guests encounter as they leave the ship and begin making their way onto the island are quickly returning to normal, and every dollar tourists pump into the local economy is helping the residents. Because let’s face it: While we stop in for a day as tourists and see areas that have been repaired, there are still many areas throughout the Caribbean where residents have damaged shelters and limited or no power. So each ship that arrives at one of the ports is, simply by being there, helping restore the islands we cruisers love so much.

For me, Grand Turk is an automatic beach day. There are all kinds of excursions you can book — from snorkeling to exploring — but all I wanna do is head to my favorite spot. So after getting off the ship, we headed straight to Jack’s Shack for some good food, cold drinks, great conversation and lots of fun.

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A perfect day at Jack’s Shack

The weather today was much better than it was a few weeks ago. On that visit, I wound up sitting at the tiki bar during a rain storm and getting completely soaked. This time around, the sun was shining, the sand was glistening and it was about as perfect a day as you could hope to have.  Also, everything is better when you get to spend a little time with Topher, the most photographed dog in the world.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Topher, the wonder dog!

We started heading back to the ship, but could see that the line was crazy long. So instead, we swung by Margaritaville for a drink and a dip in the pool while we waited for the line to go down. After all, why stand in line when you can be doing… really, anything else. Once the line was down to a dozen people or so, we walked over to the pier and basically walked back onto the Carnival Vista.

Margaritaville was the perfect place to kill some time.

Once on board, I headed straight for the BlueIquana to grab a taco, remembering that all I’d eaten for lunch was some conch fritters. After that… much as I’d love to say I did something exciting, I actually went back to the room for a three-hour nap. Because if you can’t nap on vacation, when can you?

Finding The Perfect Spot To Chill

One of the big selling points of the Vista class ships is that they are designed to help you connect with the water. For many people, that means finding a lounger and staring at the sea while sipping a beverage. If that’s you, and the upper decks are a little too crowded for your taste, head down to deck five. There’s not a pool there (aside from the Havana retreat, which doesn’t open to the general public until 7 p.m.) but there are plenty of great places to relax, away from the madness.
Speaking of the Havana retreat… I’m seriously considering looking into booking a Havana Suite next time I do Vista (or one of her upcoming sister ships). Yes, it’s more expensive, but the idea of having access to the amazing Havana area during the day is really appealing. Especially during those times when you’re by the main pool and there are more people than chairs. It happens on every ship, especially when the chair hogs are hot in force… and really, when aren’t they?

Dinner And A Show… Reversed

I really wanted to do Jiji Asian Kitchen for dinner tonight, and the only available slot was 9 p.m. Now that’s pretty late for me, eating wise, but I figured it was definitely worth it. Plus, we could easily kill time by seeing a show.
The comedy shows are held in the Limelight Theater, located on deck four, aft. As we all know, comedians can be hit or miss, and not everybody is going to find the same material funny. But the performers on this particular ship have been fantastic. The two we’ve seen so far will be getting off the ship in Aruba, and two more will come on board.
A hot topic among many cruisers is the adults-only comedy shows, in which some performers can get pretty blue. So far, we’ve seen both the PG and adults-only show by the entertainers, and both managed to do an R-rated show that didn’t resort to dropping F bombs or getting extremely vulgar. Don’t get me wrong… I have no issues with adult humor, and listen to a lot of podcasts that would make your grandma blush. But it’s cool to see people who can do adult humor without taking things so far that it’s uncomfortable for some. (Although that said, hey, they warn you right up front it’s the adult version!)
Pro Tip: Make sure to get to the comedy shows early, as they’re very popular and fill up quickly. There are a lot of obstructed views in the Limelight Lounge, so it’s worth getting there early to scout out a good seat. If you want the really good ones, I’d suggest arriving at least 30 minutes before showtime.

Jiji’s Asian Kitchen is one of the popular specialty restaurants on Carnival Vista.

Finally, it was time for dinner at Jiji’s Asian Kitchen. The cover at this specialty restaurant is $15 per person, and it’s always a good meal. I went with the shrimp soup, spicy chicken and a side of broccoli. The dessert was a rose creme brulee   with ginger ice cream, and it was downright awesome. It was also while devouring the dessert that I found myself thinking, “You’ve been eating a lot this trip! The scale may have some bad news for you when you get home!” But hey, you know what the kids say: YOLO. Wait, do the kids still say that? Let’s just pretend they do.
Tomorrow we are in La Romana, Dominica Republic, which means another big day! So until then… goodnight!
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