Why Sail On The Fantasy?
The ship may be a little older and shows its age in some spaces, but that’s easily overlooked in light of its friendly, welcoming atmosphere. And it’s just plain comfortable, from bed linens and pillows to deck chairs and dress code. Not to mention that its muted color scheme, compared with some of its sister ships, is very easy on the eyes. Dark bluish-purple tones in the elevator lobbies and on the first floor of the Grand Atrium exude a calming vibe, while nearby cabin hallways are unobtrusively cheerful with their bright, cream-colored walls.
Even better, thanks to Carnival’s fleetwide $350 million “Evolutions of Fun” initiative (a designer patch on those old jeans, if you will), this 20-year-old vessel now looks less than half its age. During a 2008 dry dock, the ship was spruced up with cabin upgrades (including flat-screen TV’s), a new water park and expanded dining options. Carnival Fantasy even looks more trendy and modern, with cabins furnished in reds and golds, and dining rooms accented with plush chairs and soft white lights. And while the ship still doesn’t have all the amenities of its younger siblings, the upgrades offer something new and fresh for passengers and keep the ship attractive to cruise travelers.
Beyond the hardware, what really stood out on my sailing was the service. From the room stewards and waiters, to the folks at Guest Services, every single crewmember onboard seems to want passengers to have the trip of a lifetime. Stewards often come by on embarkation day to introduce themselves. Waiters and other staff members are just as friendly and helpful.
Another plus for Carnival Fantasy: It’s the first — and currently the only — ship to sail out of Charleston. Out-of-towners will find that this friendly port city can make for a great pre- or post-cruise stay, while locals will find it to be an easy drive-to cruise experience (which would explain why there were so many Southerners on our sailing).
While there aren’t as many venues as on some other ships, food onboard is generally delicious. Although both of the ship’s dining rooms are very nice, there are no alternative dining options, with the exception of the Promenade Deck’s Bistro, which serves coffee drinks, pastries and other dessert items.
Two dining rooms are available for dinner onboard. Jubilee is positioned on Atlantic Deck (Deck 8), aft, while Celebration is located midship on Deck 8. Decor in Celebration is fairly muted and elegant, with black marble counters, wooden chairs and booths, white table cloths and accents of yellow, gold and blue. Jubilee’s furnishings are similar, featuring accents of yellow, gold and red, instead of blue.
Those who choose set-seating dining will go to one or the other at a set time — either 6 p.m. or 8:15 p.m. Those who choose the Your Time Dining option, are assigned only to Celebration and can eat whenever they choose between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. Even if you choose “Your Time Dining”, there is hardly ever a wait of more than 5-10 minutes.
The dining experience in Celebration (which has the same menu as Jubilee each night — both menus change nightly) is absolutely superb. Service is outstanding, with the waiters remembering little things for each passenger – like what drinks are preferred of what your favorite dessert is.
For those looking for “healthy” eating options, check out the Spa Carnival fare on each night’s dining room menu. Each menu also carries “Always Available” options that appear every day, as well as vegetarian selections.
Open-seating breakfast is also available in Celebration from 8 to 10 a.m. on sea days and from 7 to 9 a.m. on port days. Dining rooms are not open for lunch when the ship is in port.
The most convenient dining option onboard is the Windows on the Sea buffet on Lido Deck (Deck 10). Continental breakfast is served on sea days from 7 to 7:30 a.m. and on port days, starting at 6 a.m. Items offered include fruit, yogurt and bagels. Buffet breakfast runs from 7:30 a.m. to noon on sea days and from 6 a.m. to noon on port days. Take your pick from eggs, bacon, waffles (which were cold and crumbly when I tried them), French toast, grits, oatmeal, fruit and yogurt. An omelet station is available at the rear of Windows on the Sea, where the pizzeria is located.
From noon to 3:30 p.m., lunch is available; one section serves Indian cuisine, and other options — like a pizzeria and a deli — are located at the rear of the venue. (Pizza is available 24 hours a day, as is soft-serve ice cream.) Main buffet items vary, but may include chicken, potatoes and a variety of veggies and salads. Dinner items, similar to those offered at lunch, are also offered in Windows on the Sea daily from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Late-night snacks like cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts and chili are available at Windows on the Sea from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily. Drinks like iced tea, water and lemonade are available here 24 hours a day.
Another free dining option is the Sushi Bar, located at the end of the promenade on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), just before the Grand Atrium. Look carefully, or you’ll miss this little stand, which is open from 5 to 8:15 p.m. daily and offers several types of sushi, including vegetarian options. No seating is available, but tables can be found nearby on the promenade.
If you’re itching to taste something different, try the Mongolian station at Mongolian Wok. You can find it right next to the grill near the pool on Lido Deck (Deck 10). It’s open daily from 12 to 2:30 p.m. on sea days and from 12 to 3:30 p.m. on port days and offers a variety of vegetables and other stir-fry items. The grill, located next to Mongolian Wok, is a great option if you’re lounging poolside and start to feel those hunger pangs. Rotisserie is available there from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. on port days and from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on sea days. A grill, serving burgers, popcorn chicken, hot dogs and an assortment of salads, joins the rotisserie from 12 to 6 p.m. daily.
The ship’s only for-fee edibles come from the Bistro patisserie, found at the end of the Promenade Deck (Deck 9). Choose from cookies, pastries and other sweets, as well as specialty coffee beverages. All charges are billed to passengers’ onboard accounts. Chocolate chip cookies from this cute little coffeehouse-type eatery are definitely worth a tiny splurge.
For those times that you just want to “eat in”, complimentary room service can be ordered 24 hours a day. Items on the room service menu include sandwiches (turkey, ham and cheese, New York strip loin with brie, mozzarella and Portobello mushroom, etc.), Caesar salad, veggie sticks, assorted juices, cheesecake, chocolate cake and yogurt, among other things. Alcoholic beverages carry standard charges, plus an automatic 15 percent gratuity per drink. Breakfast fare (bagels, yogurt, fruit, etc.) is also available. In our experience, delivery was generally prompt and friendly. You may want to keep a couple of singles handy for tips.
The Grand Atrium, which includes fancy, glass-enclosed elevators and a huge skylight window, is located forward and spans six decks, from Empress Deck (Deck 7) to Sports Deck (Deck 12). Many noteworthy places — such as Guest Services, the Internet cafe, the photo and art galleries, the shore excursions desk, the arcade, Club O2, Circle C and several onboard shops — are clustered around the atrium on various decks. On the atrium’s first floor, in the center, you’ll find a bar that often features live piano music and guitar performances.
For those who just can’t tear themselves away from e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, a 24-hour Internet cafe is available on Empress Deck (Deck 7), across from the Guest Services desk in the Grand Atrium. Time used is charged to your onboard account at a rate of 75 cents per minute. Two plans are available and offer discounted rates: 100 minutes for $55 or 250 minutes for $100. Ten desktop computer stations and a printer are available. (Printouts cost 50 cents per page.) Laptops can also be used, as Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship; I had no trouble connecting my personal laptop to the Internet while in my cabin.
The Pavilion Library, located on Atlantic Deck (Deck 8), is a small area that offers a couple cabinets of books, comfy chairs, tables and board games. Although the tan color scheme is muted and lends itself to a relaxing experience, this room is fronted by a glass wall that looks out into the atrium — an area that sees quite a bit of hustle and bustle. Families often play board games there, too, so be forewarned if you’re looking for a quiet retreat: distractions abound.
For the shopaholics onboard, Formalities and the Boutique, midship on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), sell clothing and accessories (scarves, hats, sunglasses, etc.). A nearby candy store offers everything from gummy bears to bubblegum. The Galleries Shopping Mall is located one deck down on Atlantic Deck and sells items like jewelry, watches and sunglasses, as well as duty-free alcohol and sundries. If art and photography are more your speed, check out the Art Gallery on Empress Deck (Deck 7) or the Photo Gallery on Promenade Deck (Deck 9) in the Grand Atrium.
Valet laundry service is available for an extra fee, and self-service laundry facilities are available on both the Upper Deck (Deck 6) and Empress Deck (Deck 7). The cost for self-service laundry is $3 per washer load and $3 per dryer load. Soap packets are available from a dispenser for $1 each. All charges will appear on your onboard account. Washing machines are not available for use when the ship is in port, due to environmental regulations; however, dryers and irons/ironing boards are still fair game.
Carnival Fantasy’s cabins are found on just five decks: Verandah (Deck 11), Empress (Deck 7), Upper (Deck 6), Main (Deck 5) and Riviera (Deck 4). Fantasy offers only a few cabin types: insides (185 square feet), outsides with picture windows (185 square feet), outside with portholes (185 square feet), Ocean Suites (250 square feet) and Grand Ocean Suites (400 square feet).
All cabins feature Carnival Comfort Beds, covered with white, ribbon-cut down duvets and fluffy white down and feather pillows. The bedskirts and drapes are in a pale gold fabric, and the carpeting is brick-red with flecks of gold. The furniture in each room includes a square ottoman with wooden legs and a wooden, Shaker-style chair, both upholstered in a brick-and-gold thin-striped fabric.
The desktop, desk drawers and closet doors are covered in a maple wood veneer. As part of the ship’s refurbishment, each cabin now boasts a flat-screen television that carries CNN, CNN International, several in-house channels hawking shore excursions or items from the gift shops, Cartoon Network, ESPN, two movie channels that play new releases, ABC, CBS and NBC.
Bathrooms, too, have received a facelift. In fact, they have been completely gutted and redone, and look very clean and bright. New, pedestal-style sinks have been added, leaving just enough space for personal items. The new form gives the bathrooms a sleek, stylized look, with Italian-style faucets in the sinks, and cool, modern shower heads. Fluffy white towels are provided, in addition to blue beach towels. Bathrobes are also available for use; you’ll find them in the closets.
Standard cabins do not have hair dryers, but they can be signed out upon request — just ask your room steward. Passengers get bars of soap and a wall-mounted pump bottle of Aviva shampoo and shower gel in the shower. Carnival has partnered with several companies to supply sample sizes of personal items in a bowl on the sink counter. It’s fun, because you never know what you’re going to get.
Ocean and Grand Ocean Suites have balconies, with the regular (Ocean) suites forward on the Verandah Deck at the top of the ship and the deluxe (Grand Ocean) suites located midship on Upper Deck. Both have whirlpool baths and expanded living spaces that include wall units, mini-bars, marble-topped desks and sofa beds. The Ocean Suites have very small balconies that are not completely private as they are viewable from the forward, public portion of the Verandah Deck. The Grand Ocean Suites are bigger and have large, private balconies. Balcony furniture includes two upright chairs (made of metal and blue mesh), a small metal table and a matching sun lounger. The ship also offers 24 accessible cabins for disabled travelers.
Some rooms are adjoining, great for groups staying in adjacent cabins. However, such luxuries can be a drawback if you don’t know your neighbors. Some cabins also feature Pullman beds, which can be folded down from the wall to provide extra space for third and fourth passengers. Sleep sofas are only available in the suites.
Onboard entertainment is plentiful and fun. Daytime interactive offerings include hairy chest contests, dance lessons and trivia. In the evenings, passengers can participate in the Marriage Show (Carnival’s version of “The Newlywed Game”) and Battle of the Sexes, and late-night entertainment featured movie soundtrack revues, a Beatles tribute and performances by comedians and magicians.
The Universe Lounge is where most of the major entertainment takes place. Located on Atlantic and Promenade Decks (Decks 8 and 9), this venue, as you might guess, has a space-age theme. It features black carpeting with planets and stars, plush seats, red walls and silver metal-trimmed windows with black curtains. Everything from country line dancing to Battle of the Sexes takes place there, and nightly shows feature comedians, magicians and plenty of singing and dancing, as well as live music.
The Forum Lounge, which is significantly smaller, is located on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), aft, and hosts smaller performances, such as karaoke.
Cleopatra’s Piano Bar, located on Atlantic Deck (Deck 8), is the place to sing along to live piano music. Adorned with Egyptian statues and comfy chairs, this is also a great place to people-watch from the bar’s all-glass front, which looks out into the Grand Atrium.
Club 21 Casino is the place to be if you want the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas in the middle of the ocean. Crazy carpeting and lights adorn this venue, which offers mostly slots, but does include some table games like poker. Check your Fun Times daily newsletter for poker tournament times.
Shore excursions are offered at most of the ports the Fantasy stops at. The itineraries included historical and sightseeing tours, shopping excursions, beach passes, snorkeling, parasailing adventures and dolphin encounters. Although it might be easier to book through the cruise line (and you’ll know the operator is reputable), it can also get pricey, especially for families. You can often find better deals yourself once you are off ship.
Do keep in mind, though, that if a non-ship-sponsored excursion runs late, the ship may not wait for you before sailing away, and you’ll have to meet it at its next port of call at your expense.
Spa Carnival, which offers spa treatments, salon services and exercise facilities, is located on the Sports Deck (Deck 12). Spa offerings include facials, massages and slimming treatments, while the salon features everything from haircuts and highlights to shaves. Manicures, pedicures and teeth-whitening are also available in that area. Prices are, naturally, a bit higher than you’d find on land, but are normal by cruise-industry standards. I spotted a 50-minute facial for $169, a 50-minute hot stone massage for $165, 30 minutes of teeth-whitening for $199 and a 25-minute manicure for $29. Be sure to look for discounts and packages on port days.
To reach the gym, locker rooms and aerobics room, passengers must walk down hallways on either side of the spa reception desk. Locker rooms have showers, toilets, and steam rooms and saunas (one of each in both men’s and women’s locker rooms). An aerobics room, for classes like Yoga and Pilates (which carry an extra charge of about $12 per class), is located en route to the gym. The gym features a variety of Life Fitness machines, including weight machines, rowers, stationary bikes, ellipticals and treadmills that boast a forward view out of giant, floor-to-ceiling windows.
One deck above, on the Sun Deck (Deck 14), you’ll find other sports facilities like a jogging track, golf cage and mini-golf course. (Grab clubs at the Towel Hut on Deck 10.) The Sun Deck is a bit more windy than some of the other decks, which could make for a more challenging — or frustrating — game.
The ship offers only one pool (Lido Deck, Deck 10), and it is small for the number of passengers onboard. It is most often full with no room to swim. Even on port days, it is often packed. A couple of hot tubs also flank the pool, and a nearby stage provides a venue for dance competitions, hairy chest contests and giant chess games. It can also be difficult to find empty deck chairs on sea days.
The WaterWorks water park was added in 2008 on Verandah Deck (Deck 11) as part of the “Evolutions of Fun” refurbishment initiative. Children especially enjoy the park’s three slides — two, side-by-side speed slides and a long, twisty slide. Lines tend to be long on sea days.
If you’re searching for a relaxing spot away from the kids, check out Serenity, the adults-only sun deck on Promenade Deck (Deck 9). It’s got black wicker loungers with teal-upholstered cushions and yellow umbrellas. If you really prefer a spot in the shade, upright chairs are available against the rear wall and are completely out of the sun. This area offers a great view of the ship’s wake, as it’s positioned on the stern. Crewmembers will be around to take orders for drinks, which you can sip in one of two nearby hot tubs.
Carnival’s Camp Carnival program, based on the Promenade Deck (Deck 9) just behind the Majestic Bar, offers daily supervised activities for children ages 2 to 11. Kids are divided into groups by their ages: 2 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11. Circle C, which is located on Atlantic Deck (Deck 8), offers a space dedicated to 12- to 14-year-olds. Club O2, situated on Promenade Deck (Deck 9) in the Grand Atrium, offers a place for 15- to 17-year-olds to hang out. Teens and tweens are also supervised by youth program staff. Young children enjoy activities like dance lessons, movies and pizza parties, while older kids and teens compete in Guitar Hero tournaments and attend parties with themes like “Glow” and “Mardi Gras.”
Beyond the organized children’s programs, an arcade is also available on Promenade Deck (Deck 9) in the Grand Atrium. Several types of games are offered, including racing games, snowboarding simulators, an air hockey table, and games that involve guns and zombies. Tokens are needed, and they can be obtained from the nearby vending machine, which will put the charge on your (or your child’s, so beware) onboard account.
Baby-sitting services are available nightly from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Children from 2 to 8 years of age are taken to the Playroom for movie time, snacks and drinks. Those ages 9 to 11 can take part in the “Night Owls Rule” program, during which they’ll play video and board games, watch movies and have snacks. The cost is $6 per child, per hour, for the first child and an additional $4 per hour for all others in the same family. No in-room baby-sitting is available.
Carnival ships draw lots of families, especially during the summer months. The majority of those onboard seemed to be in their late-30′s and 40′s, many with children. Most are from the southern United States, and many are from North and South Carolina — within easy driving distance of the ship’s Charleston homeport.
The dress code onboard is “Cruise Casual.” Most people opt for shorts and T-shirts or tank tops with bathing suits underneath. However, dinner in the dining rooms is a slightly more dressy affair, with men wearing khakis and button-downs or collared shirts and women wearing sundresses or blouses with skirts or dress pants.
Sailings of six nights or less will have one “Cruise Elegant” formal night, during which men generally wear suits, tuxes or — at the very least — ties and blazers. Most women opt for evening gowns, cocktail or party dresses or pantsuits. Cruises of seven nights or more have two formal nights.
No cutoffs, gym shorts, flip-flops or bathing suits are allowed in the dining room at any time. Jeans are fine, as long as they aren’t ripped.
A charge of $10 per person, per day, will be added to your onboard account for gratuities. (Of that money, cabin stewards and their teams receive $3.50, dining room waiters split $5.50, and other crewmembers — kitchen and hotel service staff — share $1 per day.) You can adjust these amounts up or down at any time by visiting the Guest Services desk in the Grand Atrium on Empress Deck (Deck 7). If you choose, you can also leave extra cash for crewmembers who have done an extra-special job. Envelopes for additional tips are available at the Guest Services desk. Also, a 15 percent gratuity will automatically be added to your bill for each beverage you purchase.