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Copyright © 1995-2005 
Linda Coffman


Carnival Fascination
April 25, 2005

by Wayne Goldstein

This was a 4-day cruise doing the Key West to Cozumel and then back to Miami route. It was our second cruise and our first window! Well worth it, the kids especially like to see to the water, the sunrise, etc. Room size seemed fairly generous, too, as cruise “staterooms” go, having had an interior, claustrophobic room on the Norwegian Dawn, our virgin cruise. 

Carnival’s Fascination is an aging ship but clean and reasonably well maintained. The evidence of age is mostly in its antiquated technology, such as key cards. On Norwegian, a single card got you into your room, and sufficed as ID around the ship for things such as purchases, the kids’ area check-in/out, and re-boarding the ship. With the Fascination, the cabin door locks are mechanical, not electronic, requiring a key with punch-hole patterns; a key that has no other use. Then, because the ship-issued personal ID doesn’t have an embedded digital photo, when re-boarding from a shore excursion, a passport (or other legal photo ID) must be taken along with the ship ID. With 2 kids in tow, it meant 7 ID’s (including one cabin key) had to go with us.

Still, some good features are with this ship. Two or three of the smaller deck pools contain seawater, not the standard chlorinated fresh water. I liked the natural salt water on the skin, especially after climbing out, ignoring the towel, and just allowing the air and sun to do the drying. One odd thing around the deck – they have an excessive number of broken chaise lounges; always the back-height angle adjusting mechanism. And the white plastic is often stained, rendering them visually unappealing, though usually not unclean. The pools themselves could be larger; they’re all quite small.

My final critique of the water-based recreation? The hot tubs are anything but. Whether the pools or the spa, every last one is lukewarm. But the spa is pretty nice. A clean, airy workout room, where the aerobic machines face windows out to the sea, dry and steam saunas, and locker showers with five showerheads per stall and good water pressure. Only problem? Four out of 5 of the men’s stalls had non-adjustable scalding hot water and the one that didn’t was also at a fixed temperature that was not quite hot enough [don’t know about the ladies’]. Lastly, the gym/spa closed at 8pm. Maybe I shouldn’t expect 24 hours, but the late night spa thing ought to be something a passenger can look forward to. 

The food on this ship was a disappointment. Maybe Norwegian’s fare spoiled me a bit, but everything on Fascination tasted as if were pulled out of deep, cold storage, then overcooked and overly sauced. Every entrée was too dry, every vegetable too old, every dessert too packaged-grocery tasting. And despite a good-sized wait staff, service was spotty. Two bright spots: the soups are pretty good, occasionally very good, and (if you’re a kid) the chocolate milk is homogenized, something I can never get at a mainland restaurant, where they just add Hershey’s syrup to regular milk.

And now a laundry list of other elements, good and bad. Good – they have 3 ping-pong tables – makes for frequent enough availability. Bad – no free drinks in the casino, even if your playing table games; that’s unprecedented to my knowledge [Cruise Diva notes: it is not unusual; only ONE cruise line features casinos where drinks are complimentary to gamblers]. Good – the elevators: fast response time, just make sure you hit the call buttons on both sides of elevator bank you’re using. Bad – the balcony seating pitch in the Palace Lounge, their main performance theatre. Not high enough row-to-row, rendering views obstructed from those seats, especially if patrons are seated in front of you. 

Shore excursions, as on most cruise lines, are better booked directly, even waiting until your onshore, as Carnival’s premium is excessive. 

Lastly, maybe it’s not Carnival’s fault, but disembarkation in Miami seemed like the line that never ends [Cruise Diva notes: cruise lines do not control the procedure in any port]. We probably snaked a half mile through the sprawling terminal. The Customs’ staff had far too few people and Carnival invited everybody off the ship at their own leisure rather than systematically segmenting to prevent the deluge. 

Still, Carnival’s niche is value and the flexibility that comes with so large a fleet. We booked with little advance, maybe 2 weeks, departed on a Monday, returned on a Friday and got a good price ($1400 for 3 for a picture window cabin). And that’s something few other lines could match.

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