Carnival Cruise Review: Half Moon Cay & Nassau on the Fascination


[from the archives]
 originally posted June 2015

A few weeks ago my husband & I went on our first cruise with Carnival Cruse Lines. We were aboard the Carnival Fascination which left out of Jacksonville, Florida and traveled to Half Moon Cay and Nassau in the Bahamas.

It. Was. Awesome!

I’ve heard a lot of people who go on cruises tend to go on multiple cruises, and I totally understand why. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, or if I would like being on a ship that long. But even though it was by far the longest and biggest vacation my husband and I have ever been on together, it was soooo relaxing and enjoyable!

This is a super long review of Carnival Cruise:

Getting on & off the boat:

I’m really glad we decided to drive to Jacksonville the day before our cruise- it was nice not to be in a rush. Our ship was scheduled to leave Jacksonville at 4:00 pm, and I think you could start boarding around noon. We checked out of our hotel at 11:00 and headed straight to the port. Even though it was before 12, there were people there already. We parked near the exit (so it would be easier to leave), and walked over to the ship. 

The check-in process was much more organized than I expected: we just gave our big bags to a guy outside the building (with our luggage tags on them identifying our ship cabin & name) and went through the lines with our carry-ons. There were several hundred people already, but it was well organized and everyone told you exactly where to go. I do recommend having all travel documents in easy to reach places, because you’ll show them a lot. We were on board probably by 1 pm.

Getting off the boat was more complicated, it just didn’t seem as well organized and we had to wait longer. That being said, if you carry off your bags you get off faster. We met in a designated space, waited about an hour for them to call our floor, walked down several floors carrying all our bags which took maybe 20 minutes, and rolled straight off through customs and to our vehicle. We were out of the port & stopping for food by 10:00 am.

The Ship:

We were aboard the Carnival Fascination. This is one of the smallest and oldest Carnival ships, as far as I know. 

When I say smallest…it still held something like 2500 passengers plus around 900 crew. It was obvious that some of the decor was outdated, just faded carpets and upholstery etc. However, everything in our room was very clean and things seemed well kept.I’ve definitely stayed in worse hotels, and I would go back aboard it again. There was still plenty to do (mini-golf, a pool- although smaller than I expected, multiple hot tubs, clubs, shops, and a theater). Also a spa & gym & sooooo many lounge chairs to lay out in (although they do fill up FAST on the days at sea). While it didn’t have quite as many bells & whistles as the newer ships, I think it was a good ship for first time cruisers. Still big enough to get lost on but small enough that it was easy enough to walk around.

We had an interior room, so no outside view.  

Personally I really enjoyed it- it got so dark in that room that you could sleep wonderfully anytime of the day. This was really helpful in the afternoons– a lot of time (especially on the port days) we would want a nap between our daily activities and our late dinners. Also some of the shows start late (around 11:15) so I definitely needed a nap to enjoy both daytime and nighttime activities! After talking to the other couple at our table who had a balcony room, hubby really wants to do that next so who knows. 

I was actually surprised by the space in our room, I thought it was going to be terribly small but I didn’t feel crowded(maybe just because I had low expectations). I think it depends on the layout of the room- the other couple who went with us had a different layout and it didn’t feel quite as spacious IMO. Also interior and lower level rooms are where you will feel the movement of the ship the least- which is good for those who are prone to sea sickness.

The Dining:

The food was good- some was great, some was not. I enjoyed the buffets on the Lido deck, which run almost 24/7. There are always hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos & chicken tenders (which were amazing). There were different styles of food on different days, but those were the constant and were good. The food in the formal dining rooms was very good, if you ordered the right thing. The salmon, the lobster, the steak, and the turkey I remember being really great (or other people saying were really great). 

The “comfort foods” are not worth ordering- I saw literally no American staff on the ship, and I think the cooks probably fit that pattern and are not used to cooking meatloaf and fried chicken (those were the only meals anyone did not eat). That being said, if you don’t like something you just request another one! You’ve paid for it all already, and they’ll bring you whatever you ask for (it just may take a while for the second order). There was one night where there were multiple appetizers that sounded good, so everyone at our table ordered two of them (to be fair, they were small).
I actually really enjoyed the portion sizes- you get bread, an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert as a standard meal (they give a menu and you choose one [or two or three] of each). I felt full but not stuffed by the end of dinner. You have to pay if you want anything other than water, lemonade, or tea to drink (either at the Lido deck or the formal dinner).

Also, our wait staff was amazing. Our head waiter was Lois from Columbia. He was so polite, so accommodating, so funny, and could dance. They sang and/or danced something like 3-4 nights out of the cruse, and one night they danced to the apple-bottom jeans song and it was amazing. Seeing him each night was truly a highlight of our trip.

We didn’t start ordering room service until the last day or two- but it was really good! And free/included (except for tips- you’re expected to tip for everything, and anything with a charge automatically comes with a 15% gratuity added so pay attention to that).

Half Moon Cay:

 Half Moon Cay is the private island owned by Carnival. Beforehand I really expected this to be too commercial and boring.

It was hands down my favorite part of the cruise.

We had to take a tender boat (almost like a pontoon boat) to the island- the water is too shallow for the cruise ship to port directly on it, so it anchors in the water and you take a smaller boat over to the island. Since we had an excursion planned, our tickets told us where to be and when.

There are some shops and stuff when you first come in- I didn’t visit any of these. 

We did a stingray excursion which was cheap (I think $30 a person) first thing. We were in a little cove with maybe a dozen stingrays and tons of little fish, with water shoes & snorkel gear provided by Carnival (you could bring your own if you so desired). I was way more scared than I expected! The sting-rays just sort of glide around and you never really know what they are doing or where they are going. 

After a few minutes of snorkeling, we all stood in a circle and were given a tiny squid to feed the sting-rays. At this point we were told to keep our hands out of the water, so the sting-rays could be corralled to each individual to feed. My husband did not listen, and one of the tiny fish decided to go after the squid and bit his finger. He deserved it.

While we were each waiting our turn the sting-rays just randomly squeezed in between us and would literally push out of the way to go where they wanted. It was actually less scary than when we were snorkeling, because I didn’t see them coming and they just feel smooth when they brush by you. Apparently I was holding the squid too tightly, because the sting-ray didn’t take it from me haha! The guide told me to loosen up and then the sting-ray kind of vacuumed it out of my hand.

After this we went to the beach. I was worried that since we had done an excursion first, there wouldn’t be any beach  chairs left for us. Carnival has cabins and chairs already settled on the beach so all you have to bring are the beach towels provided in your cabin- it was great. We found chairs pretty easily and then visited the Captain Morgan’s Bar of course.

Lunch was provided from around 11-2 I think. It was simple, but good. I don’t eat a lot when I’m on the beach anyway, because I can’t eat while I’m hot. Most of the day was spent in the gorgeous ocean though. Seriously, most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It was relaxing and simple and pretty and there was plenty of booze around and there was literally nothing more to ask for.
The last tender left at 4:00, we started back to the port around 3:15 just to be sure and headed back to the ship.


This was for sure the only rough day on the whole trip. 

I’m not blaming Nassau- I’m blaming us. 

I wish we had done an excursion there instead of in HMC. It’s really easy to walk off the ship, literally you walk off & are in Nassau. Right off the boat there are people asking you to take their tour, visit their part of the beach, etc etc. I had read about this and was okay, but it was a bit intimidating. I’d also read that Nassau is small…which it is, but not as small as I thought it was and not small enough to walk around as easily as I expected. We visited the straw market- which had some awesome things but you have to haggle and the vendors are a little pushy. Again, not blaming them, but I suck at haggling and you can’t really browse quietly. There are some shops that have set prices closer to the port and I wish I had stuck with those, although we did get a few souvenirs at the straw market which I love.

We grabbed a map and decided to visit Queen’s Staircase.Unfortunately, the map didn’t include all the smaller streets and they don’t really have blocks- it’s kind of confusing. We ended up walking through random neighborhoods for at least 20-30 minutes before a cab driver who had passed us 2 or 3 times stopped and kind of insisted we get in. The security level had been raised that day and the girl we were with had originally really not wanted to take a cab- but at this point we were so hot and tired and stressed and it was worth it. He took us to the staircase (which we never would have found on our own) and informed us that apparently the area we had been walking through was the hood. Yay, us and totally paying attention to the security advice to stay in the touristy areas. 

The staircase was cool, and apparently it was in one of Tank’s video games so that was awesome for him. At the bottom there was a bathroom so we all went in to use it. I saw a lady sitting on the steps hand something to my friend, but I didn’t register what it was till she handed me something too as I walked by and it was toilet paper. 

We were rationed toilet paper by a stranger.

We walked back through town now that we kind knew where we were and were going to have lunch at Senior Frogs which is right by the port. But…it was so freakin’ expensive (like almost 20$ for a few tacos) and I could literally see the ship which had free food on it. So we went back and ate at the Lido deck, and then were all too frazzled to go back into Nassau. I felt really bad, and wished I had purchased more souvenirs, and in general better planned the day. But I know for next time. Again, not blaming Nassau. Just wish we had planned something or taken up one of the tours.

Although, fun fact- pretty sure someone did try to steal my passport. I had it in a plastic container strapped in my back pocket, tied to my belt loop. We had stopped on the street trying to figure out WTF we were, and reapplying sunscreen. I was slightly bent over spraying my legs, and a girl walked by and either tried to feel me up or steal my passport. She didn’t, and there was no cash in there (we had carried only small bills and had them divided between people and pockets per the security advisement…and just common sense). But she for sure touched my ass, so that’s fun.

The next day was a full day at sea, and the morning after that we were back in the US.

Overall I loved the experience- having everything on the boat and having so much prepaid was amazing!

There was almost nothing to worry about- if you forget something in the room, it takes ten minutes to go get it & be back. There were comedy shows and game shows and places to lay out and booze constantly being brought to you. It was fantastic! I highly recommend it, and we are already trying to figure out when we can go on another one

No one is paying me for this, in anyway. I mean, I wish they would- please, send me on another one Carnival! I love you! I legitimately had an amazing experience.

Have you been on a cruise? What did you think?

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