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Cruise Ship Review

Carnival Fascination - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

A flurry of new ship launches for Carnival Cruise Lines over the past few years has overshadowed one of the fleet's more venerable vessels, Carnival Fascination, which debuted back in 1994. In fall 2006, the 70,367-ton, 2,052-passenger ship received the first part of its major "Evolutions of Fun" upgrade, part of a $250 million program to revamp the line's eight middle-aged Fantasy-class ships through extensive makeovers to public areas and staterooms.

For adults, the line added an art gallery and an Internet cafe, complete with 10 work stations. Bow-to-stern Wi-Fi is an added convenience for passengers who seek to stay in touch with home or the office via a personal laptop -- even from one's own cabin. Spa Carnival was gutted and now, at 12,000-square ft., features new treatment rooms, updated exercise equipment and cosmetic enhancements. Additionally, the line added a new cafe -- Bogart's -- a patisserie serving specialty coffees and sweets. In response to a burgeoning trend for businesses to hold meetings at sea, a new 1,200-square-ft. conference room was also added during the fall 2006 dry-dock.

For kids, aside from the three onboard pools, there's a nine-hole miniature golf course and both a teen club and 1,600-square-ft. Children's World play area.

For passengers of all ages, staterooms and suites received upgrades. Since adding the Carnival Comfort Bed sleep system in a previous makeover (plush mattresses, high-end duvets and high quality pillows and linens), the line introduced flat-screen TVs, new wall coverings, new light fixtures and even spruced up the bathrooms with new tiles and lighting.

Upgrades in carpeting and upholstery, and some modifications to the layout of the aft lounge and casino area to accommodate larger groups, have also been completed. The line even refurbished Fascination's 1,300-seat Palace Lounge. Mostly a technical refurbishment, new sound and lighting systems were added.

What you won't see aboard the Fascination -- yet -- is an overhaul to the aft section of the sun deck. So there's no Carnival Waterworks Aqua Park or 300-foot-long corkscrew waterslide, the most visible top-deck elements of the Evolutions of Fun upgrades. Nor will you see, just two decks below, the line's vaunted adults-only "Serenity" area, complete with whirlpools, plush chaise lounge chairs and colorful oversized umbrellas. While these enhancements have been completed aboard three other Fantasy-class vessels (Imagination, Inspiration and Fantasy), passengers won't see them added to Fascination until early 2010.

Fascination may lack the bells and whistles many Carnival fans have come to expect aboard other ships in the fleet, but it's a great ship for first-timers or vacation-challenged residents in the tri-state homeport area (Florida, Alabama and Georgia). For those who have sailed on her in the past, given the newish alterations, she's also worth a second look.

The ship's four-day cruises depart Thursdays and visit Freeport and Nassau -- look for beaches and myriad watersports opportunities -- while five-day voyages depart Mondays (Nassau and Key West) or Saturdays (Nassau and Half Moon Cay). A private, crescent-shaped Bahamian island, Half Moon Cay features a children's water park, beach-side cabanas and a number of passenger-friendly shore excursions. The island is owned by sister-company Holland America Line.

Dining

Carnival has in recent years become -- and this may surprise some -- known not only for the quality of its cuisine but also for the variety of styles available onboard. These include options like Spa Carnival Fare, health-conscious items low in calories, cholesterol, sodium and fat. And even though Georges Blanc, the French, Michelin-starred chef who has overseen the line's culinary program over the past few years has moved on, the dining experience remains enjoyable.

Onboard dining options revolve primarily around Imagination and Sensation, the ship's main dining rooms. As of the publishing of this review, the ship has two seatings -- early (6 p.m.) and late (8 p.m.) -- but Carnival will add its new flexible "Your Choice Dining" option to Fascination by February 2010.

Starters include salads, stuffed mushrooms, soups and bisques. But the most popular options are the line's standards: fruit cocktail, shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad.

The broiled Maine lobster tail, paired with black tiger shrimp, is as good as it gets. Hearty surf and turf souls can exchange the shrimp for grilled flat-iron steak or, as is always the case with Carnival, can order additional entrees including options like pan-seared fillet of tilapia, linguini, pork, lasagna, grouper, roast turkey breast and duck. Carnival also offers salmon, chicken, ribs and steak at every dinner sitting. As a steak fan who gravitates to beef almost nightly, the flat-iron variety or grilled New York strip from Black Angus Beef offered later in one's voyage will not disappoint, especially with a three peppercorn sauce accompaniment. Both are excellent and so too are the sides, from Idaho baked potatoes and steamed white rice to French fries and assorted vegetables.

Desserts run the gamut from ice cream, sherbets and cheeses to the ever-popular warm chocolate melting cake ... the guiltiest of all Carnival pleasures.

Unlike several Carnival ships, there is no Supper Club or specialty restaurant onboard Carnival Fascination.

Those seeking a more casual dining experience may do so in the 722-seat Coconut Grove Bar & Grill. A self-serve breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet venue, it is here where passengers congregate for pancakes, cereal, bacon and sausage in the mornings; burgers, chicken, made-to-order pizza and deli selections at lunch; and prime rib, pork, lamb or turkey carving stations each evening. Passenger flow could not be better as food stations are located on both port and starboard sides, aft (24-hour pizza) and in the middle of the room, where the deli, salad, dessert and 24-hour self-serve yogurt/ice cream stations are located.

Sun-worshippers need not despair, Fascination's pool grille -- typically open from noon to 6 p.m. daily -- is but a few steps away and offers burgers, hot dogs, chicken, fries and the like.

There's even an onboard sushi station. Dubbed "The Sushi Bar," this Promenade deck locale is typically open from 4:30 to 8 p.m. As word gets out, expect increasingly longer line-ups as your cruise progresses, but it's worth the wait. Look for the traditional -- California roll -- plus exotic offerings like a ginger cured salmon, spring onion bean sprout maki roll or cucumber wrapped tiger shrimp and bokchoy uramaki with maple barbecue glace. Best of all, it's complimentary and serves as a great pre-dinner appetizer or, if one is so inclined, dinner itself.

The ship offers 24-hour room service. Deliveries now include many deli and pizza options not previously available. You can also order continental breakfast.

Public Rooms

Designed by the line's award-winning interior architect Joe Farcus, the ship features a variety of dramatic, Hollywood-inspired public spaces.

There's the aforementioned Palace Lounge, which showcases the line's onboard revues and passenger talent shows, plus 12 bars and lounges scattered throughout to ship to tickle anyone'[s fancy. The Passage to India Lounge (don't forget to pose for pictures in front of the two life-like elephants guarding the entrance) and Diamonds Are Forever dance club, which, as the name implies, features an interior with diamonds as the central theme, are two of the most popular onboard locales.

For more low-key entertainment, passengers will find the Tara Library, the Galleria Shopping Mall -- discounted jewelry and Carnival-logo items anyone? -- and a card room on Atlantic deck.

Cabins

Carnival Fascination has five different cabin categories: Interior, Oceanview, Suite, Penthouse Suite and Connecting Staterooms.

A standard cabin is a decent 185 square ft., slightly larger than some of the standard variety found on lines billing themselves as premium. Most feature twin beds that can be turned into a king. In all, the ship features 1,026 staterooms, 54 of which include a private balcony. The small balcony percentage is one of the downsides of booking a ship from the pre-balcony era of 1994.

Space saving flat-screen TV's were added during the fall 2006 dry-dock. Programming includes both network and cable favorites, complimentary movies and seven Carnival channels that run 24/7. Look for the Cruise Director's channel, a shore-side shopping channel, Carnival brand commercials, Fun Ship films, and tour videos.

A writing desk, telephone, safe, convenient in-bed lighting mounted on the headboard, ample closest and drawer space, and directory complete with stateroom services guide round out the modest in-cabin touches.

All cabins have private bathrooms, a pair of bathrobes and shower-mounted soap and shampoo. If you're looking to have that well-coiffed look before meal time think again -- hair dryers are not part of the décor. Your cabin steward will locate a standard, no-frills hair dryer for you, but you should really plan to pack your own.

Carnival has long taken a unique approach when it comes to providing toiletries beyond the wall-mounted soap and shampoo. Look for sample sizes of well-known brand items -- Bic his/her razors; Crest toothpaste; Tylenol; deodorant; and even vitamins -- in a basket in the bathroom.

Penthouse suites come in at 430 square ft. and feature flat-screen TV's with VCR; a wet bar area (not stocked); refrigerator/mini-bar (stocked); a sitting area with sectional sofa (double sofabed); two armchairs; twin beds that convert to a king; walk-in closet; and wall safe. The dressing area features a vanity table with sink and chair. The bathroom, meanwhile, includes a combination shower/whirlpool, double sink and hair dryer. The 85-square-ft. balcony features a lounge chair, patio chair and table.

Entertainment

Carnival has long excelled in its major production shows, and on my trip highlights included performances of "Hey Mambo" and "Far from Over: the 80's," two revues featuring fast-paced musical numbers and elaborate costumes and sets.

"Hey Mambo" pays homage to the pulsating rhythms of Latin America and the Caribbean. The show takes passengers on a journey through various musical hotspots, opening with a visit to a sultry Havana nightclub, then on to Jamaica, where singers and dancers performed a host of Latin and reggae numbers. The last stop, Brazil, features a dramatic, Amazon jungle backdrop.

"Far From Over: the 80's" celebrates the era of big hair, leg warmers and salutes, what else, the pulse-pounding sounds of the era.

Not far behind is the equally-popular Fascination talent show, where passengers become Madonna or Frank Sinatra for an evening or at least do their best trying to be Madonna or Frank Sinatra. Surprisingly, the onboard Karaoke competition held in the Puttin on the Ritz lounge, features a good act or two every night.

Casino action, dancing, game shows, trivia challenges, art auctions and truly a plethora of other onboard pursuits -- let's not forget that hairy chest poolside competition -- make for a stimulating week onboard.

Fitness and Recreation

The most impressive Fascination makeover during the fall 2006 dry-dock occurred in Spa Carnival. Virtually gutted and rebuilt, the new 12,000-square-ft. facility -- salon, massage area, gymnasium and his/her changing rooms -- is nearly as spacious and modern as that in any of the newer ships in Carnival's fleet.

Fascination offers a host of tried and true spa services, including various massages (back, scalp, foot and ankle), exotic seaweed wraps and warm stone rhythmic massage therapy, plus facials, cellulite reduction treatments and even couples massages.

Look also for teeth whitening opportunities, manicures, pedicures and men's barbering services. Specials are listed daily. Fascination also offers spa services for teens, including facials, and private sauna and steam rooms.

On the fitness side, the ship's gymnasium is open from 6 a.m. to 8 pm daily. There are treadmills, Stairmasters, stationary bikes and free weights available for use, and the 180-degree ocean views could not be more spectacular from the Deck 12 venue. Personal trainers are on hand throughout the day to offer assistance. Look for daily stretching sessions and a series of free seminars (secrets to a flatter stomach, burn fat faster and eat more to weigh less) throughout the week. Daily Pilates, yoga and indoor cycling classes cost $10 each, and personal training will set you back $85 per session.

Carnival has a partnership with Sunrise, Florida-based Elite Golf Cruises, which offers players the opportunity to receive personalized instruction while playing some of the most challenging courses in Key West and the Bahamas. Shipboard lessons feature state-of-the-art video analysis. Priority tee times, transportation between ship and course, and equipment rentals (clubs, golf shoes and accessories) are among the program highlights.

Fascination also features an onboard basketball and volleyball court, and a jogging track.

Family

The ship offers programming for children in five age groups: "Camp Carnival" for kids ages 2 - 5, 6 - 8 and 9 - 11; "Circle C" for 12- to 14-year-olds; and "Club O2" for older teens.

Young and older youths alike enjoy a host of PlayStation2 and Nintendo Wii games, sports, music, plus art activities and parties.

Family fun awaits at the nine-hole miniature golf course or at the three swimming pools, including a children's wading pool and a main pool offering a 115-foot-long water slide. There's even a turn-down service for kids consisting of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies alongside Carnival's renowned towel animals created nightly by cabin stewards.

Fellow Passengers

A cross section of middle America -- baby boomers, families, newlyweds, Gen-Xers, seniors – converge to form the weekly make-up aboard Fascination. Add that to 2edding parties, revelers, early risers and late-to-bed singles crowds, and you have a broad and boisterous passenger mix.

Dress Code

Casual day-time attire is followed by casual evening wear. Shorts, however, are not permitted in the dining rooms after 6 p.m. Men typically wear a suit and tie for formal night; sport shirts and slacks the rest of the evenings. Most women opt for a cocktail dress or comfortable pants outfit on formal night followed by casual outfits (dress or blouse/skirt, blouse/pants ensemble) the remainder of the cruise.

Gratuity

A $10 per-person, per-day gratuity is added to passenger accounts. It can be adjusted -- up or down -- at the purser's desk. Bar bills include a 15 per cent gratuity.

--by Michael Coleman. Coleman's weekly “Cruise Guide' newspaper column has been appearing in Florida newspapers since 2004.

Dining

Carnival has in recent years become -- and this may surprise some -- known not only for the quality of its cuisine but also for the variety of styles available onboard. These include options like Spa Carnival Fare, health-conscious items low in calories, cholesterol, sodium and fat. And even though Georges Blanc, the French, Michelin-starred chef who has overseen the line's culinary program over the past few years has moved on, the dining experience remains enjoyable.

Onboard dining options revolve primarily around Imagination and Sensation, the ship's main dining rooms. As of the publishing of this review, the ship has two seatings -- early (6 p.m.) and late (8 p.m.) -- but Carnival will add its new flexible "Your Choice Dining" option to Fascination by February 2010.

Starters include salads, stuffed mushrooms, soups and bisques. But the most popular options are the line's standards: fruit cocktail, shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad.

The broiled Maine lobster tail, paired with black tiger shrimp, is as good as it gets. Hearty surf and turf souls can exchange the shrimp for grilled flat-iron steak or, as is always the case with Carnival, can order additional entrees including options like pan-seared fillet of tilapia, linguini, pork, lasagna, grouper, roast turkey breast and duck. Carnival also offers salmon, chicken, ribs and steak at every dinner sitting. As a steak fan who gravitates to beef almost nightly, the flat-iron variety or grilled New York strip from Black Angus Beef offered later in one's voyage will not disappoint, especially with a three peppercorn sauce accompaniment. Both are excellent and so too are the sides, from Idaho baked potatoes and steamed white rice to French fries and assorted vegetables.

Desserts run the gamut from ice cream, sherbets and cheeses to the ever-popular warm chocolate melting cake ... the guiltiest of all Carnival pleasures.

Unlike several Carnival ships, there is no Supper Club or specialty restaurant onboard Carnival Fascination. However, for an exclusive dining event for just 12 guests, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners can attend a multi-course dinner hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a non-traditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library. The Chef's Table will roll out on Carnival Fascination as of the May 13, 2010, cruise.

Those seeking a more casual dining experience may do so in the 722-seat Coconut Grove Bar & Grill. A self-serve breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet venue, it is here where passengers congregate for pancakes, cereal, bacon and sausage in the mornings; burgers, chicken, made-to-order pizza and deli selections at lunch; and prime rib, pork, lamb or turkey carving stations each evening. Passenger flow could not be better as food stations are located on both port and starboard sides, aft (24-hour pizza) and in the middle of the room, where the deli, salad, dessert and 24-hour self-serve yogurt/ice cream stations are located.

Sun-worshippers need not despair, Fascination's pool grille -- typically open from noon to 6 p.m. daily -- is but a few steps away and offers burgers, hot dogs, chicken, fries and the like.

There's even an onboard sushi station. Dubbed "The Sushi Bar," this Promenade deck locale is typically open from 4:30 to 8 p.m. As word gets out, expect increasingly longer line-ups as your cruise progresses, but it's worth the wait. Look for the traditional -- California roll -- plus exotic offerings like a ginger cured salmon, spring onion bean sprout maki roll or cucumber wrapped tiger shrimp and bokchoy uramaki with maple barbecue glace. Best of all, it's complimentary and serves as a great pre-dinner appetizer or, if one is so inclined, dinner itself.

The ship offers 24-hour room service. Deliveries now include many deli and pizza options not previously available. You can also order continental breakfast.

Dining

Carnival has in recent years become -- and this may surprise some -- known not only for the quality of its cuisine but also for the variety of styles available onboard. These include options like Spa Carnival Fare, health-conscious items low in calories, cholesterol, sodium and fat. And even though Georges Blanc, the French, Michelin-starred chef who has overseen the line's culinary program over the past few years has moved on, the dining experience remains enjoyable.

Onboard dining options revolve primarily around Imagination and Sensation, the ship's main dining rooms. As of the publishing of this review, the ship has two seatings -- early (6 p.m.) and late (8 p.m.) -- but Carnival will add its new flexible "Your Choice Dining" option to Fascination by February 2010.

Starters include salads, stuffed mushrooms, soups and bisques. But the most popular options are the line's standards: fruit cocktail, shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad.

The broiled Maine lobster tail, paired with black tiger shrimp, is as good as it gets. Hearty surf and turf souls can exchange the shrimp for grilled flat-iron steak or, as is always the case with Carnival, can order additional entrees including options like pan-seared fillet of tilapia, linguini, pork, lasagna, grouper, roast turkey breast and duck. Carnival also offers salmon, chicken, ribs and steak at every dinner sitting. As a steak fan who gravitates to beef almost nightly, the flat-iron variety or grilled New York strip from Black Angus Beef offered later in one's voyage will not disappoint, especially with a three peppercorn sauce accompaniment. Both are excellent and so too are the sides, from Idaho baked potatoes and steamed white rice to French fries and assorted vegetables.

Desserts run the gamut from ice cream, sherbets and cheeses to the ever-popular warm chocolate melting cake ... the guiltiest of all Carnival pleasures.

Unlike several Carnival ships, there is no Supper Club or specialty restaurant onboard Carnival Fascination.

Those seeking a more casual dining experience may do so in the 722-seat Coconut Grove Bar & Grill. A self-serve breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet venue, it is here where passengers congregate for pancakes, cereal, bacon and sausage in the mornings; burgers, chicken, made-to-order pizza and deli selections at lunch; and prime rib, pork, lamb or turkey carving stations each evening. Passenger flow could not be better as food stations are located on both port and starboard sides, aft (24-hour pizza) and in the middle of the room, where the deli, salad, dessert and 24-hour self-serve yogurt/ice cream stations are located.

Sun-worshippers need not despair, Fascination's pool grille -- typically open from noon to 6 p.m. daily -- is but a few steps away and offers burgers, hot dogs, chicken, fries and the like.

There's even an onboard sushi station. Dubbed "The Sushi Bar," this Promenade deck locale is typically open from 4:30 to 8 p.m. As word gets out, expect increasingly longer line-ups as your cruise progresses, but it's worth the wait. Look for the traditional -- California roll -- plus exotic offerings like a ginger cured salmon, spring onion bean sprout maki roll or cucumber wrapped tiger shrimp and bokchoy uramaki with maple barbecue glace. Best of all, it's complimentary and serves as a great pre-dinner appetizer or, if one is so inclined, dinner itself.

The ship offers 24-hour room service. Deliveries now include many deli and pizza options not previously available. You can also order continental breakfast.A flurry of new ship launches for Carnival Cruise Lines over the past few years has overshadowed one of the fleet's more venerable vessels, Carnival Fascination, which debuted in 1994. In January 2010, the 70,367-ton, 2,052-passenger ship received phase two of its "Evolutions of Fun" upgrade, part of a $350 million program to revamp the line's eight middle-aged Fantasy-class ships through extensive makeovers to public areas, top-deck spaces and cabins.

During the $34 million refurbishment, Fascination received an extensive sun deck overhaul. The ship gained the now-signature Carnival WaterWorks, with its 300-foot-plus-long twister slide, racing slides and water-spraying apparatuses. The mid-ship pool was redesigned in a tropical theme featuring massive beach umbrellas, thatched-roof-covered hot tubs and palm tree sculptures. Fascination also gained the adults-only "Serenity" area, complete with whirlpools, plush chaise lounge chairs and umbrellas. In addition, 98 balconies were added to cabins, and several suites were retrofitted with larger, extended balconies.

Despite the overhaul, the ship does lack certain amenities found on newer vessels, such as a large proportion of balcony cabins (even with the 98 new balconies) and multiple alternative restaurants (Fascination has none). Still, its year-round positioning in Jacksonville, from which is offers four- to seven-night Bahamas cruises, makes it a great ship for first-timers or vacation-challenged residents in the tri-state homeport area (Florida, Alabama and Georgia).

Dining

Carnival has in recent years become -- and this may surprise some -- known not only for the quality of its cuisine but also for the variety of styles available onboard. These include options like Spa Carnival Fare, health-conscious items low in calories, cholesterol, sodium and fat.

Onboard dining options revolve primarily around Imagination and Sensation, the ship's main dining rooms. The ship has two seatings -- early (6 p.m.) and late (8:15 p.m.) -- or passengers can opt into the "Your Choice Dining" program, which means dinner in a reserved part of the dining room is available from 5:45 to 9:30 p.m., first come, first served.

Starters include salads, stuffed mushrooms, soups and bisques. But the most popular options are the line's standards: fruit cocktail, shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad.

The broiled Maine lobster tail, paired with black tiger shrimp, is as good as it gets. Hearty surf and turf souls can exchange the shrimp for grilled flat-iron steak or, as is always the case with Carnival, can order additional entrees including options like pan-seared fillet of tilapia, linguini, pork, lasagna, grouper, roast turkey breast and duck. Carnival also offers salmon, chicken, ribs and steak at every dinner sitting.

Desserts run the gamut from ice cream, sherbets and cheeses to the ever-popular warm chocolate melting cake ... the guiltiest of all Carnival pleasures.

Unlike several Carnival ships, there is no Supper Club or specialty restaurant onboard Carnival Fascination. However, for an exclusive dining event for just 12 guests, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners can attend a multicourse dinner, hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley, led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a nontraditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library.

Those seeking a more casual dining experience may do so in the 722-seat Coconut Grove Bar & Grill, the ship's buffet venue. A self-serve breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet venue, it is here where passengers congregate for pancakes, cereal, bacon and sausage in the mornings; burgers, chicken, made-to-order pizza and deli selections at lunch; and prime rib, pork, lamb or turkey carving stations each evening. Passenger flow could not be better as food stations are located on both port and starboard sides, aft (24-hour pizza) and in the middle of the room, where the deli, salad, dessert and 24-hour self-serve yogurt/ice cream stations are located.

Sun-worshipers need not despair as Fascination's pool grill -- typically open from noon to 6 p.m. daily -- is but a few steps away and offers burgers, hot dogs, chicken, fries and the like. In 2010, the line added a Mongolian stir-fry setup and rotisserie chicken to the pool grill.

There's even an onboard sushi station. Dubbed "The Sushi Bar," this Promenade deck locale is typically open from 5 to 8 p.m. (hours change, so check the schedule onboard). As word gets out, expect increasingly longer line-ups as your cruise progresses, but it's worth the wait. Look for the traditional -- California roll -- plus exotic offerings like a ginger cured salmon, spring onion bean sprout maki roll or cucumber wrapped tiger shrimp and bokchoy uramaki with maple barbecue glace. Best of all, it's complimentary and serves as a great pre-dinner appetizer or, if one is so inclined, dinner itself.

The ship offers 24-hour room service. Deliveries now include many deli and pizza options not previously available. You can also order continental breakfast.

Public Rooms

Designed by the line's award-winning interior architect Joe Farcus, the ship features a variety of dramatic, Hollywood-inspired public spaces.

There's the aforementioned Palace Lounge, which showcases the line's onboard revues and passenger talent shows, plus 12 bars and lounges scattered throughout to ship to tickle anyone's fancy. The Passage to India Lounge (don't forget to pose for pictures in front of the two life-like elephants guarding the entrance) and Diamonds Are Forever dance club, which, as the name implies, features an interior with diamonds as the central theme, are two of the most popular onboard locales.

For more low-key entertainment, passengers will find the Tara Library, the Galleria Shopping Mall -- discounted jewelry and Carnival-logo items anyone? -- and a card room on Atlantic deck.

Cabins

Carnival Fascination has five main cabin categories: interior, oceanview, balcony, junior suite and grand suite. (Some cabins connect, so consult your deck plans closely).

Inside, oceanview and balcony cabins are all 185 square feet, slightly larger than some of the standard variety found on lines billing themselves as premium. Balcony cabins add either 35- or 55-square-foot balconies, depending on category. Most feature twin beds that can be turned into a king. In all, the ship features 1,026 staterooms, 152 of which include a private balcony. Even with the addition of 98 balconies during the 2010 overhaul, the small balcony percentage is one of the downsides of booking a ship from the pre-balcony era of 1994.

Cabins feature flat-screen TV, writing desk, telephone, safe, convenient in-bed lighting mounted on the headboard, ample closest and drawer space, and directory complete with stateroom services guide round out the modest in-cabin touches.

TV programming includes both network and cable favorites, complimentary movies and seven Carnival channels that run 24/7. Look for the Cruise Director's channel, a shore-side shopping channel, Carnival brand commercials, Fun Ship films, and tour videos.

All cabins have private bathrooms, a pair of bathrobes and shower-mounted soap and shampoo. If you're looking to have that well-coiffed look before meal time think again -- hair dryers are not part of the decor. Your cabin steward will locate a standard, no-frills hair dryer for you, but you should really plan to pack your own.

Carnival has long taken a unique approach when it comes to providing toiletries beyond the wall-mounted soap and shampoo. Look for sample sizes of well-known brand items -- Bic his/her razors; Crest toothpaste; Tylenol; deodorant; and even vitamins -- in a basket in the bathroom.

For those looking for a little more room, there are 220-square-foot junior suites. Oddly, the juniors, which are located atop the ship, feature paltry 30-square-foot balconies.

At the top of the line are the 330-square-foot Grand suites, which have either 70-square-foot (category GS) or 115-square-foot balconies (ES). All Grand Suites feature flat-screen TV's with DVD player; a wet bar area (not stocked); refrigerator/mini-bar (stocked); a sitting area with sectional sofa (double sofabed); two armchairs; twin beds that convert to a king; walk-in closet; and wall safe. The dressing area features a vanity table with sink and chair. The bathroom, meanwhile, includes a combination shower/whirlpool, double sink and hair dryer. The decent-sized balcony features a lounge chair, patio chair and table.

Fitness and Recreation

The new 12,000-square-foot Spa Carnival facility -- salon, massage area, gymnasium and his/her changing rooms -- is nearly as spacious and modern as that in any of the newer ships in Carnival's fleet.

Fascination offers a host of tried and true spa services, including various massages (back, scalp, foot and ankle), exotic seaweed wraps and warm stone rhythmic massage therapy, plus facials, cellulite reduction treatments and even couples massages.

Look also for teeth whitening opportunities, manicures, pedicures and men's barbering services. Specials are listed daily. Fascination also offers spa services for teens, including facials, and private sauna and steam rooms.

On the fitness side, the ship's gymnasium is open from 6 a.m. to 8 pm daily. There are treadmills, Stairmasters, stationary bikes and free weights available for use, and the 180-degree ocean views could not be more spectacular from the Deck 12 venue. Personal trainers are on hand throughout the day to offer assistance. Look for daily stretching sessions and a series of free seminars (secrets to a flatter stomach, burn fat faster and eat more to weigh less) throughout the week. Daily Pilates, yoga and indoor cycling classes cost $10 each, and personal training will set you back $85 per session.

Carnival has a partnership with Sunrise, Florida-based Elite Golf Cruises, which offers players the opportunity to receive personalized instruction while playing some of the most challenging courses in Key West and the Bahamas. Shipboard lessons feature state-of-the-art video analysis. Priority tee times, transportation between ship and course, and equipment rentals (clubs, golf shoes and accessories) are among the program highlights.

Fascination also features an onboard basketball and volleyball court, and a jogging track. Fascination's one pool, which received a makeover in 2010, is located midship. The surrounding deck area features metallic palms; a pair of hot tubs abutting the pool; and a stage. During sea days, this space hosts pool deck Olympics, ice carving demonstrations and plenty of live music (from calypso to classic rock covers). The ship's other area for water-based fun is the stern-situated Carnival WaterWorks, which was also added in early 2010. Waterworks features a four-story tall, 300-foot-long corkscrew waterslide; an 82-foot-long triple-lane waterslide (great for racing); and a spray park, complete with various sculptures spewing water.

The nine-hole mini course is a popular site. The adults-only Serenity Deck, also added during the 2010 dry dock, is a teak deck space located on the stern (out of earshot from the noisy WaterWorks). The Serenity Deck has two hot tubs and loungers with plush blue padding. There are both sunny and shady spots, with yellow umbrellas and a thatched-roof overhang providing cover.

Fellow Passengers

A cross section of middle America -- baby boomers, families, newlyweds, Gen-Xers, seniors – converge to form the weekly make-up aboard Fascination. Add that to wedding parties, revelers, early risers and late-to-bed singles crowds, and you have a broad and boisterous passenger mix.

Gratuity

A $10 per-person, per-day gratuity is added to passenger accounts. It can be adjusted -- up or down -- at the purser's desk. Bar bills include a 15 per cent gratuity.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff. An envelope is provided on the last night for those who want to extend thanks to the maitre d'.

Public Rooms

Designed by the line's award-winning interior architect Joe Farcus, the ship features a variety of dramatic, Hollywood-inspired public spaces.

There's the aforementioned Palace Lounge, which showcases the line's onboard revues and passenger talent shows, plus 12 bars and lounges scattered throughout to ship to tickle anyone's fancy. The Passage to India Lounge (don't forget to pose for pictures in front of the two life-like elephants guarding the entrance) and Diamonds Are Forever dance club, which, as the name implies, features an interior with diamonds as the central theme, are two of the most popular onboard locales.

For more low-key entertainment, passengers will find the Tara Library, the Galleria Shopping Mall -- discounted jewelry and Carnival-logo items anyone? -- and a card room on Atlantic deck. Passengers will find the ship's guest services and shore excursion desks on the soaring atrium's ground floor. The small 24-hour Internet Cafe is also here -- but there's bow-to-stern Wi-Fi should you want to bring your own laptop or Wi-Fi enabled device. Connectivity is sold in a number of packages or a la carte, though per-minute prices are lower when you buy in bulk. For instance, a block of 120 minutes is $59 or 49 cents a minute; 480 minutes for $159 or about 33 cents a minute; otherwise, expect to pay 75 cents per minute.

Entertainment

Carnival has long excelled in its major production shows, and highlights may include performances of "Fiesta Latina" and "Far from Over: the 80's," two revues featuring fast-paced musical numbers and elaborate costumes and sets.

"Fiesta Latina" pays homage to the pulsating rhythms of Latin America and the Caribbean. The show takes passengers on a journey through various musical hotspots, opening with a visit to a sultry Havana nightclub, then on to Jamaica, where singers and dancers performed a host of Latin and reggae numbers. The last stop, Brazil, features a dramatic, Amazon jungle backdrop.

"Far From Over: the 80's" celebrates the era of big hair, leg warmers and salutes, what else, the pulse-pounding sounds of the era.

Not far behind is the equally-popular Fascination talent show, where passengers become Madonna or Frank Sinatra for an evening or at least do their best trying to be Madonna or Frank Sinatra. Surprisingly, the onboard Karaoke competition held in the Puttin on the Ritz lounge, features a good act or two every night.

Casino action, dancing, game shows, trivia challenges, art auctions and truly a plethora of other onboard pursuits -- let's not forget that hairy chest poolside competition -- make for a stimulating week onboard.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $12.00 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $6.10 to dining room services, $3.90 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but it can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping a couple dollars for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.

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