Skip to main content

Cruise Ship Review

Carnival Fantasyfont color=#C81D00 - Refurbished!/font - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Carnival Fantasy is like your favorite pair of jeans or an old pair of sneakers -- a little worn out but so comfortable you just keep coming back to them. Sure, the ship appears broken-in and shows its age in some spaces -- I mostly noticed this in the cabins -- 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 our room steward and waiters, to the folks at Guest Services, every single crewmember onboard seemed to want me to have the trip of a lifetime, and all other passengers with whom I spoke agreed. On embarkation day, our room steward stopped by to introduce himself and called us by name every single time we bumped into him afterward. During dinner, our waiters, Thanet and Djedje Idi, asked us about our trip and made a point of remembering our nightly preferences to better anticipate our needs -- two dishes of ice cream instead of one, a pina colada with dessert, water instead of iced tea. And when I couldn't decide which of three soups I'd like best, they brought me one of each!

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).

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 $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'.

Gratuity

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.

Dress Code

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.

Fellow Passengers

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. (Again, there were more than 600 kids on our summer sailing.) Most are from the southern United States, and many I met were from North and South Carolina -- within easy driving distance of the ship's Charleston homeport.

Family

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.

My early summer sailing was overrun with children -- more than 600 younger than 18 -- and it showed. Kids seemed to come from every angle, darting through corridors and between crowds on the pool deck and on the promenade. Despite the ship's stellar children's offerings, you still feel their presence, so if you'd rather be among a slightly older set of fellow cruisers, book a sailing when school is in session.

Fitness and Recreation

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.) I ventured up there on a port day to check out a mini-golf tournament and wasn't surprised to see that very few people were participating. 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's far too small for the number of passengers onboard. On both of the sea days on my sailing, it was so crowded that people were standing in the water, shoulder to shoulder, with no room to actually swim around. The edges were lined with those who had no room to fit, but who were still able to dangle their legs in the water for some relief from the heat. Even on port days, it's packed. It was also interesting to note that the pool was closed on at least two of our six nights onboard. (When I asked about it, I was told that it had to do with the circulation of water. On sea days, sea water is used and is constantly circulated and released back into the ocean. On port days, there are restrictions that prevent the ship from discharging the water near the shore.) 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. Good luck finding 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 did seem to 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; I waited 15 minutes for my turn on the slide.

Editor's Note: Don't be fooled by the outdated deck plans posted by the elevators on each deck. There is no longer a Verandah Deck pool. It was removed in 2008, and its former location is now home to the WaterWorks water park. Also be aware that there are no lifeguards on duty at either the pool or WaterWorks, so children should be supervised by a parent.

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.

Entertainment

Onboard entertainment is plentiful and fun, but it's generally a bit cheesy, so leave your pretentions on the gangway. 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. I found interactive entertainment to be far more fun and enjoyable than the musical performances, which were a bit too over-the-top and reminiscent of Las Vegas. (I was shocked to see women in thongs and men in backless chaps during an early show, which was attended by more than a few small children.) The comedic and magic shows, however, were decent and drew laughs from the crowd.

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. You won't find any solid enrichment programming here -- unless you consider dance lessons, golf clinics and reflexology seminars to be educational experiences.

Be aware that presentations about "what to do on your cruise" are mainly just loosely masked sales pitches for things like art, shore excursions and future cruises. If you miss what you think might have been an important presentation, you can always catch it on your in-room television later in the day.

The Forum Lounge, which is significantly smaller, is located on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), aft, and hosts smaller performances, such as karaoke.

If you're craving a drink poolside, check out the Patio Pool Bar, positioned forward from the pool on Lido Deck (Deck 10). It's nothing spectacular, but it does offer a mean pina colada.

The Majestic Bar, situated on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), is furnished with rich woods and super-comfortable black leather chairs and couches. It's got a very scotch-and-cigars feel, and smoking is allowed there.

If you'd like a drink in a more lively atmosphere, check out the 21st Century Bar on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), just outside of the Club 21 Casino. It's a central location if you like to people-watch, and directly across from the bar is an area for tables and chairs, where daily trivia most often takes place.

For lounges that offer both drinks and entertainment, Cats Lounge and the Electricity Disco Dance Club are both located along the Promenade (Deck 9). Cats Lounge is a great place to listen to live music, and decor is definitely unique, featuring larger-than-life brand-name item replicas like Ritz crackers, Heineken beer, Good Year tires, Tide laundry detergent and Campbell's Tomato Soup. (Note that smoking is allowed in Cats Lounge.) Electricity features a nightly D.J., and the decor is a mix of dark blue with lots of glitter and silver trim -- there's also a disco ball, of course! Electricity is also home to teen dance parties on select nights, as well as Groove for St. Jude, which charges passengers $10 for a T-shirt and wristband in order to raise money for the St. Jude Children's hospital. Those who participate are then treated to dance lessons -- we learned the moves to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on our voyage -- and free drinks in the Universe Lounge immediately following.

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.

Editor's Note: Although Carnival ships are known for their party atmosphere, the nightlife on Carnival Fantasy was a bit more dull than I expected. The Electricity Disco didn't seem very lively, with only a small handful of folks dancing after hours. The most happening evening entertainment options were karaoke in the Forum Lounge, gambling in the casino and attending the shows in the Universe Lounge. Still, on a few nights, the ship seemed almost deserted.

Shore excursions offered on our Key West and Bahamas itinerary included historical and sightseeing tours, shopping excursions, beach passes, snorkeling, parasailing adventures and dolphin encounters. I briefly considered booking a parasailing excursion in Nassau -- which would have set me back $200 for two people -- but was glad I decided against it when my travel companion and I were able to find a deal that was $120 for two people in Freeport. 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. 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.

Cabins

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 (which seem to be on endless loops), 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. There's plenty of hot water, but it's nearly impossible to get cold water, and the water pressure is mediocre. 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. On this trip I got two razors, toothpaste and shower gel.

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.

Editor's Note: One thing missing from our cabin was a clock. It would have been extremely helpful -- I usually use my cell phone to keep track of the time, but I didn't have it on for the duration of the sailing. An alarm clock also would have been great to have, but wakeup calls can easily be requested via your cabin phone (or by dialing Guest Services if the wakeup call option doesn't work, as was the case when we tried). Passengers may also find a power strip to be helpful, as there are only two U.S.-style plugs in each cabin -- one by the desk and one in the bathroom.

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. Our oceanview cabin was pleasant, except for the rowdy children in the cabin next to ours. At all hours of the day, we heard loud music, excessively noisy television and lots of raucous laughter. They also took to amusing themselves by pounding on the adjoining door and playing with the doorknob -- a huge annoyance for me, as it was directly over my head while I slept. 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.

Public Rooms

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.

Editor's Note: Outdated deck plans, located near the onboard elevators, list the Pavilion Library as the Card Room, which existed before the ship was retrofitted.

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 (Deck 8) 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.

Editor's Note: Restrooms are located on the Promenade Deck, but the ladies' room is significantly more difficult to spot than the men's room. Coming from the Universe Lounge into the Grand Atrium, it's located to your right, around the corner, with a sign that is easy to miss at first glance.

Dining

Food onboard is generally delicious, but there aren't as many venues as on some other ships. Although both of the ship's dining rooms seem swanky, 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, as we did, are assigned only to Celebration and can eat whenever they choose between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. On our six-night sailing, we decided to experiment with different dining times, but we only had to wait once (at 7:30 p.m.), and it was no more than five minutes before our beeper buzzed to signal that a table was ready.

Our experience in Celebration (which has the same menu as Jubilee each night -- both menus change nightly) was absolutely superb. Service was outstanding, with our waiters remembering little things like the fact that I liked nonalcoholic pina coladas with my dessert or that my brother liked two scoops of ice cream (instead of one) with his. Among our favorite dishes were strawberry soup, grilled chicken quesadillas and escargot for appetizers; lobster tail, penne with seafood in tomato cream sauce and mahi mahi for entrees; and, of course, Chocolate Melting Cake (available nightly) for dessert. Although food quality was generally great, I did try a chilled mango soup that I thought was a little too sweet for anything other than dessert, as well as a pumpkin and squash pie that, while tasty, was a bit dry. For healthy options onboard, 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, which included a very tasty broccoli and cauliflower tortellini. 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 (which always seemed far too sweet) are available here 24 hours a day.

Editor's note: You may want to avoid the buffet around noon, as lines can often snake out the door and into the pool area.

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.

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.

Also available on all of Carnival's ships is The Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and it can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.Carnival Fantasy is like your favorite pair of jeans or an old pair of sneakers -- a little worn out but so comfortable you just keep coming back to them. Sure, the ship appears broken-in and shows its age in some spaces -- I mostly noticed this in the cabins -- 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 our room steward and waiters, to the folks at Guest Services, every single crewmember onboard seemed to want me to have the trip of a lifetime, and all other passengers with whom I spoke agreed. On embarkation day, our room steward stopped by to introduce himself and called us by name every single time we bumped into him afterward. During dinner, our waiters, Thanet and Djedje Idi, asked us about our trip and made a point of remembering our nightly preferences to better anticipate our needs -- two dishes of ice cream instead of one, a pina colada with dessert, water instead of iced tea. And when I couldn't decide which of three soups I'd like best, they brought me one of each!

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).

Gratuity

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.

--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor

Dress Code

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.

Fellow Passengers

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. (Again, there were more than 600 kids on our summer sailing.) Most are from the southern United States, and many I met were from North and South Carolina -- within easy driving distance of the ship's Charleston homeport.

Family

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.

My early summer sailing was overrun with children -- more than 600 younger than 18 -- and it showed. Kids seemed to come from every angle, darting through corridors and between crowds on the pool deck and on the promenade. Despite the ship's stellar children's offerings, you still feel their presence, so if you'd rather be among a slightly older set of fellow cruisers, book a sailing when school is in session.

Fitness and Recreation

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.) I ventured up there on a port day to check out a mini-golf tournament and wasn't surprised to see that very few people were participating. 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's far too small for the number of passengers onboard. On both of the sea days on my sailing, it was so crowded that people were standing in the water, shoulder to shoulder, with no room to actually swim around. The edges were lined with those who had no room to fit, but who were still able to dangle their legs in the water for some relief from the heat. Even on port days, it's packed. It was also interesting to note that the pool was closed on at least two of our six nights onboard. (When I asked about it, I was told that it had to do with the circulation of water. On sea days, sea water is used and is constantly circulated and released back into the ocean. On port days, there are restrictions that prevent the ship from discharging the water near the shore.) 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. Good luck finding 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 did seem to 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; I waited 15 minutes for my turn on the slide.

Editor's Note: Don't be fooled by the outdated deck plans posted by the elevators on each deck. There is no longer a Verandah Deck pool. It was removed in 2008, and its former location is now home to the WaterWorks water park. Also be aware that there are no lifeguards on duty at either the pool or WaterWorks, so children should be supervised by a parent.

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.

Entertainment

Onboard entertainment is plentiful and fun, but it's generally a bit cheesy, so leave your pretentions on the gangway. 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. I found interactive entertainment to be far more fun and enjoyable than the musical performances, which were a bit too over-the-top and reminiscent of Las Vegas. (I was shocked to see women in thongs and men in backless chaps during an early show, which was attended by more than a few small children.) The comedic and magic shows, however, were decent and drew laughs from the crowd.

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. You won't find any solid enrichment programming here -- unless you consider dance lessons, golf clinics and reflexology seminars to be educational experiences.

Be aware that presentations about "what to do on your cruise" are mainly just loosely masked sales pitches for things like art, shore excursions and future cruises. If you miss what you think might have been an important presentation, you can always catch it on your in-room television later in the day.

The Forum Lounge, which is significantly smaller, is located on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), aft, and hosts smaller performances, such as karaoke.

If you're craving a drink poolside, check out the Patio Pool Bar, positioned forward from the pool on Lido Deck (Deck 10). It's nothing spectacular, but it does offer a mean pina colada.

The Majestic Bar, situated on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), is furnished with rich woods and super-comfortable black leather chairs and couches. It's got a very scotch-and-cigars feel, and smoking is allowed there.

If you'd like a drink in a more lively atmosphere, check out the 21st Century Bar on Promenade Deck (Deck 9), just outside of the Club 21 Casino. It's a central location if you like to people-watch, and directly across from the bar is an area for tables and chairs, where daily trivia most often takes place.

For lounges that offer both drinks and entertainment, Cats Lounge and the Electricity Disco Dance Club are both located along the Promenade (Deck 9). Cats Lounge is a great place to listen to live music, and decor is definitely unique, featuring larger-than-life brand-name item replicas like Ritz crackers, Heineken beer, Good Year tires, Tide laundry detergent and Campbell's Tomato Soup. (Note that smoking is allowed in Cats Lounge.) Electricity features a nightly D.J., and the decor is a mix of dark blue with lots of glitter and silver trim -- there's also a disco ball, of course! Electricity is also home to teen dance parties on select nights, as well as Groove for St. Jude, which charges passengers $10 for a T-shirt and wristband in order to raise money for the St. Jude Children's hospital. Those who participate are then treated to dance lessons -- we learned the moves to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on our voyage -- and free drinks in the Universe Lounge immediately following.

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.

Editor's Note: Although Carnival ships are known for their party atmosphere, the nightlife on Carnival Fantasy was a bit more dull than I expected. The Electricity Disco didn't seem very lively, with only a small handful of folks dancing after hours. The most happening evening entertainment options were karaoke in the Forum Lounge, gambling in the casino and attending the shows in the Universe Lounge. Still, on a few nights, the ship seemed almost deserted.

Shore excursions offered on our Key West and Bahamas itinerary included historical and sightseeing tours, shopping excursions, beach passes, snorkeling, parasailing adventures and dolphin encounters. I briefly considered booking a parasailing excursion in Nassau -- which would have set me back $200 for two people -- but was glad I decided against it when my travel companion and I were able to find a deal that was $120 for two people in Freeport. 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. 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.

Cabins

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 (which seem to be on endless loops), 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. There's plenty of hot water, but it's nearly impossible to get cold water, and the water pressure is mediocre. 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. On this trip I got two razors, toothpaste and shower gel.

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.

Editor's Note: One thing missing from our cabin was a clock. It would have been extremely helpful -- I usually use my cell phone to keep track of the time, but I didn't have it on for the duration of the sailing. An alarm clock also would have been great to have, but wakeup calls can easily be requested via your cabin phone (or by dialing Guest Services if the wakeup call option doesn't work, as was the case when we tried). Passengers may also find a power strip to be helpful, as there are only two U.S.-style plugs in each cabin -- one by the desk and one in the bathroom.

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. Our oceanview cabin was pleasant, except for the rowdy children in the cabin next to ours. At all hours of the day, we heard loud music, excessively noisy television and lots of raucous laughter. They also took to amusing themselves by pounding on the adjoining door and playing with the doorknob -- a huge annoyance for me, as it was directly over my head while I slept. 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.

Public Rooms

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.

Editor's Note: Outdated deck plans, located near the onboard elevators, list the Pavilion Library as the Card Room, which existed before the ship was retrofitted.

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 (Deck 8) 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.

Editor's Note: Restrooms are located on the Promenade Deck, but the ladies' room is significantly more difficult to spot than the men's room. Coming from the Universe Lounge into the Grand Atrium, it's located to your right, around the corner, with a sign that is easy to miss at first glance.

Dining

Food onboard is generally delicious, but there aren't as many venues as on some other ships. Although both of the ship's dining rooms seem swanky, 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, as we did, are assigned only to Celebration and can eat whenever they choose between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. On our six-night sailing, we decided to experiment with different dining times, but we only had to wait once (at 7:30 p.m.), and it was no more than five minutes before our beeper buzzed to signal that a table was ready.

Our experience in Celebration (which has the same menu as Jubilee each night -- both menus change nightly) was absolutely superb. Service was outstanding, with our waiters remembering little things like the fact that I liked nonalcoholic pina coladas with my dessert or that my brother liked two scoops of ice cream (instead of one) with his. Among our favorite dishes were strawberry soup, grilled chicken quesadillas and escargot for appetizers; lobster tail, penne with seafood in tomato cream sauce and mahi mahi for entrees; and, of course, Chocolate Melting Cake (available nightly) for dessert. Although food quality was generally great, I did try a chilled mango soup that I thought was a little too sweet for anything other than dessert, as well as a pumpkin and squash pie that, while tasty, was a bit dry. For healthy options onboard, 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, which included a very tasty broccoli and cauliflower tortellini. 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 (which always seemed far too sweet) are available here 24 hours a day.

Editor's note: You may want to avoid the buffet around noon, as lines can often snake out the door and into the pool area.

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.

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.Editor's Note: All eight of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships will receive extensive upgrades as part of Carnival's $250 million "Evolutions of Fun" program. Expansive children's water parks, a new design style and features for the pool areas, and the creation of the Serenity adults-only deck area will be part of the changes to the open decks of Carnival Cruise Lines' eight Fantasy-class ships.

The expanded outdoor recreation areas will be initially incorporated onto the 2,052-passenger Inspiration and Imagination during month-long dry docks in fall of 2007 and added to other Fantasy-class ships in 2008 and 2009 during scheduled dry-dock periods.


Being familiar with the layout of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships, which include Elation, Paradise, Inspiration, Imagination, Ecstasy and Fascination, and pretty knowledgeable about the work of Joe Farcus, Carnival's long-time designer, I figured that sailing on Fantasy would offer a similar experience. Not so!

As soon as I boarded Fantasy, I noticed a marked difference between this ship and the others in its class that I had sailed: this one's design was relatively calm and sedate, without the weird and extreme decor of most of its sister ships.

Fantasy has, it should be noted, recently undergone a major overhaul during which miles of neon lighting had been torn out and more elegant elements added, making the ship look nearly new and adding a patina of elegance that had not been evident before.

I don't mind being wrong about this, because the ship is great. The original design, with or without the red and blue neon, was well before its time, with grey melamine cubes covering the walls and plum-colored wood-veneered posts anchoring the elevator lobbies and other spots. It looks so ... today ... that it's hard to imagine that this ship is actually 16 years old.

Dining

Dining on Fantasy is traditional; there are two dinner times from which to choose, 6 and 8:15 p.m., in the Jubilee (aft) and Celebration (midship) dining rooms.

For the past several years we've been really impressed with the dining on Carnival ships, not just in the dining rooms but in all venues. The food is fresh and well-prepared, and selections are varied. Choices range from spicy curries to light spa-style fare, and although it's less popular than it was a year ago, Carnival still offers a great low-carb menu. When three-Michelin-starred chef Georges Blanc was tapped to design menu selections for Carnival, we were surprised, but it fits with the cruise line's determination to provide an elegant experience (see "cabins" below) at an affordable price (Blanc parted ways with the line in 2008).

Although filet mignon was on the menu during my cruise, that night's offering also included a mixed lamb dish, with a braised shank combined with a thick chop. I had enjoyed that selection before on another Carnival cruise, chose it again, and was not disappointed. It was Mediterranean-style bliss. The Georges Blanc selections (one appetizer, one main dish and one dessert on each evening's menu) included items like turbot in a butter-cream sauce and sauteed chicken breast with a fois gras topping. I had his recommended "sundried tomato soup with gin," and although I am not a soup person I could have made a meal of it. Definitely, it was superb (although the gin was really buried in the other flavors).

There is no surcharged alternative restaurant or "supper club" on Fantasy, but those who choose to avoid the dining room can dine more casually at the Lido Cafe, which turns into The Bistro during supper time. It's cafeteria-style dining with selections from the restaurant menu, and although it's pleasant, and you don't have to dress up for it, the selections were minimal and somewhat disappointing on the night I chose to dine there.

A better choice might have been the fresh pizza, available 24 hours a day, along with Caesar salads. Light as air, with very little tomato sauce, you can choose slices from what is available at the moment or have a pizza made especially for you. Pepperoni, veggie and plain cheese are the pizzas most often made "on spec," but you can order a chevre with wild mushrooms or an anchovy and capers pizza and not have to share it with anyone.

Breakfast and lunch are open seating in the main dining rooms but most people choose the Lido Deck restaurant, Windows on the Sea, with different stations for menu choices. During breakfast you can get made-to-order omelets along with other breakfast fare (fresh fruit, cereals, bacon and sausage), and at lunch, one station is dedicated to an international menu that features a different cuisine every day including Indian, Chinese, Mexican and French. And, on the itineraries that include the delightful Half Moon Cay, a full all-American barbecue lunch with burgers, hot dogs and jerk chicken (mmm, mmm good), potato salad, slaw, fresh fruit and dessert is the best choice.

Although it's minimal, we love Carnival's room service menu because it's all cold food -- sandwiches and salads -- and very streamlined. We especially appreciate the continental breakfast selection on the door-hung card, since it includes bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Hint: If you go for the bagel and smoked salmon, mark "2" for cream cheese for each person's order or you'll end up with an itty bitty smear that barely covers half of one bagel.

Every evening between 5:30 and 8 p.m., sushi is served at the forward end of the Promenade. Best yet, it's complimentary. The quality is good and the ingredients are fresh, but don't expect anything too fancy.

Public Rooms

With most of the neon removed from The Grand Spectrum, and the colorful but functionless central sculpture also removed (a nice round lobby bar was put there instead), this main atrium space now has purpose and is a great meeting place before going off to any number of activities. Late in the afternoon, a classical quartet provides a musical backdrop.

Just above this level, circling the atrium, is the cool and comfy Pavilion Library (open most of the day for reading but limited hours for book check-out), the Celebration dining room and Cleopatra's Bar.

Fantasy-class ships have a unique, starboard-side indoor promenade, a "street of dreams" if you will, on this ship named Via Marina. Filled with columns and statuary that might be found in ancient Greece or Rome, it provides seating along the windows, with public rooms radiating off to the port side. At the forward end is the photography display surrounding the atrium, but as you meander towards the aft end, you have your choice of Fun Ship venues. The 21st Century Bar, adjacent to the casino, gets extremely lively in the evenings, with a country-western singer a-strummin' and a-hummin' ... and it goes from there along the fronts of several other social hot spots: Cats Lounge (named for the Broadway show Cats, which was in full production at the time the ship was built), Electricity Dance Club, the Bistro coffee and pastry bar, the Internet center and then the clubby Majestic Bar that stretches the width of the ship. The Forum, located behind the Majestic, is the late-night spot for karaoke.

Most of the shops are located forward, on Atlantic Deck, just before the entrance to the main show lounge. They're big and bright, selling all manner of duty-free goods, logo items and clothing. On Promenade Deck are a couple of other shops including the "$10 for anything" costume jewelry shop and Formalities, where you can purchase a corsage and some Jelly Bellies or licorice twists.

Cabins

There are five different types of cabins on Fantasy: inside, outside, outside with porthole, suite and deluxe suite. The latter two accommodations have verandahs, with the suites forward on the Veranda Deck at the top of the ship and the deluxe suites located midship on Upper Deck. Both have whirlpool baths and expanded living space, and are decked out in marble and wood. The suites (Category 11) have very small balconies that are not completely private as they are viewable from the forward, public portion of the Veranda Deck. The deluxe suites (Category 12) are bigger and have large, private balconies.

Fantasy's renovations also included a complete overhaul of the staterooms. Gone are the pink, purple and orange drapes and bedspreads; the coral, blue and gray carpeting; and the salmon-colored Formica on the desks and closets. Gone too are the flat foam pillows and scratchy light-blue sheets. In fact, the only remnant of the old decor that remains is the cranberry-orange colored aluminum wainscoting that encircles the room and the pink aluminum lights that protrude from it.

You walk into a room that is trendy and chic, in the mode of a four-star hotel. No more giddy color schemes; instead, you see a white ribbon-cut down duvet and fluffy white down and feather pillows covering the brand new Carnival Comfort Beds. The carpeting is brick red with flecks of gold. The bedskirt and drapes are in a pale gold fabric, and the drum-shaped stool and small, rounded aluminum chair have been replaced with contemporary furniture: a square ottoman with wood legs and a wooden Shaker-style chair, both upholstered in a brick and gold thin-striped fabric.

The desktop, desk drawers and closet doors have shed their Formica and are now covered in a maple-wood veneer. The salmon colored box that took up space in the corner under the television has been replaced with a molded-wood end table (in fact, there are now two of them). And the ugly salmon-colored television surround has been replaced by a flat wooden platform.

The rooms are an elegant retreat to which to return after a day enjoying the rest of the "Fun Ship."

Bathrooms, too, have received a facelift. In fact, they have been completely gutted and fitted with pre-formed modular units. Molded floors, walls and shower have taken the place of the tiled space that had been there before. A new pedestal-style sink has been added, though alas it now eliminates most of the counter and space for personal items. And yet in spite of that, the new form gives the bathroom a sleek, stylized look, with Italian-styled faucets in the sink and shower, and a cool, modern shower head. There's plenty of hot water and the water pressure is fantastic. Big, new, fluffy white towels and a bathrobe for use in outside cabins round out the picture.

The television channels include CNN, CNN International, several in-house channels hawking shore excursions or items from the gift shops, Cartoon Network, ESPN, two movie channels (and a separate one that is geared to children), ABC, CBS, and NBC.

Standard staterooms do not have hair dryers, so plan accordingly. Guests get a bar of soap, and a wall-mounted pump bottle of shampoo and shower gel in the shower. Carnival has partnered with several companies to supply sample sizes of personal items in a bowl or basket on the sink counter. It's fun, because you never know what you're going to get. On this trip I got dental floss, rinse-off body lotion, disposable razors and Dentyne Ice gum.

Entertainment

Carnival's entertainment options are always stellar, whether it's a snazzy, jazzy and colorful production show in the Universe Lounge; the calypso band by the central pool; the rockin' country singer at the Casino Bar; or the quiet strains of the classical quartet that set the tone for pre-dinner cocktails in the lobby bar.

A large part of the entertainment offerings on any Carnival ship is the participatory activities that involve guests ... whether it's the hairy chest contest, the Mr. Elvis and Ms. Aretha challenge, the passenger talent show, or the calypso-themed deck parties. On Fantasy they were all colorful and fun, and there were several activities that were family-friendly (the deck parties, for instance), with parents and children all enjoying the revelry.

Carnival has revamped Fantasy's casino so it now has a large selection of $0.02 and $0.05 slot machines. They've added a bonus feature, too: You can draw funds right from your Sign and Sail card without having to go to the teller window; you can do it right from a slot machine with the use of a PIN number. Whatever amount you download into your "player bank" is transportable from slot machine to slot machine. Taking money from your Sign and Sail account costs 3 percent per transaction, but moving money from one slot to another is free. The system doesn't work on table games, however.

Note: This "cashless" system is almost too easy. If you're winning a lot on the slots, it's great ... all of the winnings can go into your card bank to be used on another machine or even on another day, or you can cash out your winnings. If you aren't so lucky you might lose track of how much you draw out to play, so use caution.

There are several blackjack and poker tables (including a Texas Hold 'Em alcove), a roulette wheel, and a craps table. Tournaments are held during the cruise with a fairly low buy-in.

The two-deck main showroom, Universe Lounge, is located at the bow of Fantasy, and despite it having been toned down from its original wild design, it still has bright red neon stretching across the ceilings and stage front. Although there are several posts that can be obstructive, the theater has plenty of comfortable banquette seating, so finding a good spot shouldn't be too hard. The production shows are energetic, colorful and fun; the individual performers range from ho-hum to really compelling.

During the most recent Fantasy refurbishment, one of the passenger hallways on Empress Deck was turned into an "Art Gallery," with the Park West inventory on view prior to the daily art auctions. Of course there's daily bingo as well, and trivia challenges of just about every kind imaginable.

Fitness and Recreation

Spa Carnival, located at the forward section of the Sports Deck, has been renovated to reflect the classiness of the rest of the ship. New equipment, the latest in high-tech workout gear, has been installed, and a new aerobics room added. There are men's and women's sauna and steam rooms, a whirlpool spa between them, and a forward view from the treadmills and ellipticals. The spa treatments include massages and wraps, with several specials on shore days ($99 for three treatments). There's a beauty salon for hair and nails, and classes in yoga and Pilates at an additional fee of $10.

A new, fun nine-hole mini-golf course has been added to the Sun Deck.

The central Lido Deck pool features Carnival's signature spiral slide, not limited to use by children. We saw plenty of 60-somethings repeatedly climbing the stairs for another go at it, big smiles on their faces. There is a quieter pool at the aft, with tons of deck space for sunning.

Although there is no ship-circuit outdoor promenade, the Verandah Deck does offer a walking-jogging track.

There's a half-court for basketball, Ping-Pong tables, a volleyball court and a topless sunbathing area for those who prefer European-style sunning.

Family

"Fun Ships" are meant for family fun, and Fantasy is no exception.

The children's area, located behind the Majestic Bar, is divided into three main rooms, with colorful, age-appropriate materials in each. There's the new Club 02 for teens, and Camp Carnival for youngsters aged 2 to 14. (Carnival is one of the few lines to allow non-potty-trained kids to participate.) All the programs are administered by trained professionals, and are designed to ensure maximum fun and safety for the kids.

Special teen-only shore excursions are designed by the kids themselves; they are accompanied by counselors from the programs. The younger kids get sleepovers, pizza parties, dance lessons, movies, and -- of course -- the ubiquitous video games.

Group babysitting is available for $6 per hour for the first child, and $4 per hour for each additional sibling in the same immediate family.

Fellow Passengers

Most of the guests on the cruise I took had driven to Port Canaveral from southeastern cities. It's an ideal short getaway, and although there weren't a lot of children onboard during my cruise (school was in session) there most likely will be plenty of kids during the summer months. All age groups were represented, and I met a lot of first-time cruisers who loved the experience and vow to return. The average age group was late 30's to mid-40's.

Dress Code

There is one formal night on each of the four- and five-night cruises; otherwise, dress is casual during the day and a bit dressier at night. Carnival's material asks for "resort casual" for dinner in the dining rooms, and most people looked quite spiffy indeed. No tank tops or shorts allowed in the main restaurants for any meal.

Gratuity

Carnival adds $10 per day to your shipboard account for basic tips, but makes sure you know that the maitre d' is not covered. An envelope to give him cash is delivered to your room on your last day; apart from that, you are free to add to or subtract from the amount on your account, but most people leave it and tip further in cash. My room team made me feel like a celebrated princess ... it was easy to offer them an additional tip. Heck, the perfectly executed towel animals that greeted me each night were alone worth some extra.

--by Cruise Critic contributor Jana Jones, who has also written for a variety of publications, including Vacation Agent, UK's Travel Holidays and Ocean Drive Magazine.Editor's Note: All eight of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships will receive extensive upgrades as part of Carnival's $250 million "Evolutions of Fun" program. Expansive children's water parks, a new design style and features for the pool areas, and the creation of the Serenity adults-only deck area will be part of the changes to the open decks of Carnival Cruise Lines' eight Fantasy-class ships.

The expanded outdoor recreation areas will be initially incorporated onto the 2,052-passenger Inspiration and Imagination during month-long dry docks in fall of 2007 and added to other Fantasy-class ships in 2008 and 2009 during scheduled dry-dock periods.


Being familiar with the layout of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships, which include Elation, Paradise, Inspiration, Imagination, Ecstasy and Fascination, and pretty knowledgeable about the work of Joe Farcus, Carnival's long-time designer, I figured that sailing on Fantasy would offer a similar experience. Not so!

As soon as I boarded Fantasy, I noticed a marked difference between this ship and the others in its class that I had sailed: this one's design was relatively calm and sedate, without the weird and extreme decor of most of its sister ships.

Fantasy has, it should be noted, recently undergone a major overhaul during which miles of neon lighting had been torn out and more elegant elements added, making the ship look nearly new and adding a patina of elegance that had not been evident before.

I don't mind being wrong about this, because the ship is great. The original design, with or without the red and blue neon, was well before its time, with grey melamine cubes covering the walls and plum-colored wood-veneered posts anchoring the elevator lobbies and other spots. It looks so ... today ... that it's hard to imagine that this ship is actually 16 years old.

Dining

Dining on Fantasy is traditional; there are two dinner times from which to choose, 6 and 8:15 p.m., in the Jubilee (aft) and Celebration (midship) dining rooms.

For the past several years we've been really impressed with the dining on Carnival ships, not just in the dining rooms but in all venues. The food is fresh and well-prepared, and selections are varied. Choices range from spicy curries to light spa-style fare, and although it's less popular than it was a year ago, Carnival still offers a great low-carb menu. When three-Michelin-starred chef Georges Blanc was tapped to design menu selections for Carnival, we were surprised, but it fits with the cruise line's determination to provide an elegant experience (see "cabins" below) at an affordable price (Blanc parted ways with the line in 2008).

Although filet mignon was on the menu during my cruise, that night's offering also included a mixed lamb dish, with a braised shank combined with a thick chop. I had enjoyed that selection before on another Carnival cruise, chose it again, and was not disappointed. It was Mediterranean-style bliss. The Georges Blanc selections (one appetizer, one main dish and one dessert on each evening's menu) included items like turbot in a butter-cream sauce and sauteed chicken breast with a fois gras topping. I had his recommended "sundried tomato soup with gin," and although I am not a soup person I could have made a meal of it. Definitely, it was superb (although the gin was really buried in the other flavors).

There is no surcharged alternative restaurant or "supper club" on Fantasy, but those who choose to avoid the dining room can dine more casually at the Lido Cafe, which turns into The Bistro during supper time. It's cafeteria-style dining with selections from the restaurant menu, and although it's pleasant, and you don't have to dress up for it, the selections were minimal and somewhat disappointing on the night I chose to dine there.

A better choice might have been the fresh pizza, available 24 hours a day, along with Caesar salads. Light as air, with very little tomato sauce, you can choose slices from what is available at the moment or have a pizza made especially for you. Pepperoni, veggie and plain cheese are the pizzas most often made "on spec," but you can order a chevre with wild mushrooms or an anchovy and capers pizza and not have to share it with anyone.

Breakfast and lunch are open seating in the main dining rooms but most people choose the Lido Deck restaurant, Windows on the Sea, with different stations for menu choices. During breakfast you can get made-to-order omelets along with other breakfast fare (fresh fruit, cereals, bacon and sausage), and at lunch, one station is dedicated to an international menu that features a different cuisine every day including Indian, Chinese, Mexican and French. And, on the itineraries that include the delightful Half Moon Cay, a full all-American barbecue lunch with burgers, hot dogs and jerk chicken (mmm, mmm good), potato salad, slaw, fresh fruit and dessert is the best choice.

Although it's minimal, we love Carnival's room service menu because it's all cold food -- sandwiches and salads -- and very streamlined. We especially appreciate the continental breakfast selection on the door-hung card, since it includes bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Hint: If you go for the bagel and smoked salmon, mark "2" for cream cheese for each person's order or you'll end up with an itty bitty smear that barely covers half of one bagel.

Every evening between 5:30 and 8 p.m., sushi is served at the forward end of the Promenade. Best yet, it's complimentary. The quality is good and the ingredients are fresh, but don't expect anything too fancy.

Public Rooms

With most of the neon removed from The Grand Spectrum, and the colorful but functionless central sculpture also removed (a nice round lobby bar was put there instead), this main atrium space now has purpose and is a great meeting place before going off to any number of activities. Late in the afternoon, a classical quartet provides a musical backdrop.

Just above this level, circling the atrium, is the cool and comfy Pavilion Library (open most of the day for reading but limited hours for book check-out), the Celebration dining room and Cleopatra's Bar.

Fantasy-class ships have a unique, starboard-side indoor promenade, a "street of dreams" if you will, on this ship named Via Marina. Filled with columns and statuary that might be found in ancient Greece or Rome, it provides seating along the windows, with public rooms radiating off to the port side. At the forward end is the photography display surrounding the atrium, but as you meander towards the aft end, you have your choice of Fun Ship venues. The 21st Century Bar, adjacent to the casino, gets extremely lively in the evenings, with a country-western singer a-strummin' and a-hummin' ... and it goes from there along the fronts of several other social hot spots: Cats Lounge (named for the Broadway show Cats, which was in full production at the time the ship was built), Electricity Dance Club, the Bistro coffee and pastry bar, the Internet center and then the clubby Majestic Bar that stretches the width of the ship. The Forum, located behind the Majestic, is the late-night spot for karaoke.

Most of the shops are located forward, on Atlantic Deck, just before the entrance to the main show lounge. They're big and bright, selling all manner of duty-free goods, logo items and clothing. On Promenade Deck are a couple of other shops including the "$10 for anything" costume jewelry shop and Formalities, where you can purchase a corsage and some Jelly Bellies or licorice twists.

Cabins

There are five different types of cabins on Fantasy: inside, outside, outside with porthole, suite and deluxe suite. The latter two accommodations have verandahs, with the suites forward on the Veranda Deck at the top of the ship and the deluxe suites located midship on Upper Deck. Both have whirlpool baths and expanded living space, and are decked out in marble and wood. The suites (Category 11) have very small balconies that are not completely private as they are viewable from the forward, public portion of the Veranda Deck. The deluxe suites (Category 12) are bigger and have large, private balconies.

Fantasy's renovations also included a complete overhaul of the staterooms. Gone are the pink, purple and orange drapes and bedspreads; the coral, blue and gray carpeting; and the salmon-colored Formica on the desks and closets. Gone too are the flat foam pillows and scratchy light-blue sheets. In fact, the only remnant of the old decor that remains is the cranberry-orange colored aluminum wainscoting that encircles the room and the pink aluminum lights that protrude from it.

You walk into a room that is trendy and chic, in the mode of a four-star hotel. No more giddy color schemes; instead, you see a white ribbon-cut down duvet and fluffy white down and feather pillows covering the brand new Carnival Comfort Beds. The carpeting is brick red with flecks of gold. The bedskirt and drapes are in a pale gold fabric, and the drum-shaped stool and small, rounded aluminum chair have been replaced with contemporary furniture: a square ottoman with wood legs and a wooden Shaker-style chair, both upholstered in a brick and gold thin-striped fabric.

The desktop, desk drawers and closet doors have shed their Formica and are now covered in a maple-wood veneer. The salmon colored box that took up space in the corner under the television has been replaced with a molded-wood end table (in fact, there are now two of them). And the ugly salmon-colored television surround has been replaced by a flat wooden platform.

The rooms are an elegant retreat to which to return after a day enjoying the rest of the "Fun Ship."

Bathrooms, too, have received a facelift. In fact, they have been completely gutted and fitted with pre-formed modular units. Molded floors, walls and shower have taken the place of the tiled space that had been there before. A new pedestal-style sink has been added, though alas it now eliminates most of the counter and space for personal items. And yet in spite of that, the new form gives the bathroom a sleek, stylized look, with Italian-styled faucets in the sink and shower, and a cool, modern shower head. There's plenty of hot water and the water pressure is fantastic. Big, new, fluffy white towels and a bathrobe for use in outside cabins round out the picture.

The television channels include CNN, CNN International, several in-house channels hawking shore excursions or items from the gift shops, Cartoon Network, ESPN, two movie channels (and a separate one that is geared to children), ABC, CBS, and NBC.

Standard staterooms do not have hair dryers, so plan accordingly. Guests get a bar of soap, and a wall-mounted pump bottle of shampoo and shower gel in the shower. Carnival has partnered with several companies to supply sample sizes of personal items in a bowl or basket on the sink counter. It's fun, because you never know what you're going to get. On this trip I got dental floss, rinse-off body lotion, disposable razors and Dentyne Ice gum.

Entertainment

Carnival's entertainment options are always stellar, whether it's a snazzy, jazzy and colorful production show in the Universe Lounge; the calypso band by the central pool; the rockin' country singer at the Casino Bar; or the quiet strains of the classical quartet that set the tone for pre-dinner cocktails in the lobby bar.

A large part of the entertainment offerings on any Carnival ship is the participatory activities that involve guests ... whether it's the hairy chest contest, the Mr. Elvis and Ms. Aretha challenge, the passenger talent show, or the calypso-themed deck parties. On Fantasy they were all colorful and fun, and there were several activities that were family-friendly (the deck parties, for instance), with parents and children all enjoying the revelry.

Carnival has revamped Fantasy's casino so it now has a large selection of $0.02 and $0.05 slot machines. They've added a bonus feature, too: You can draw funds right from your Sign and Sail card without having to go to the teller window; you can do it right from a slot machine with the use of a PIN number. Whatever amount you download into your "player bank" is transportable from slot machine to slot machine. Taking money from your Sign and Sail account costs 3 percent per transaction, but moving money from one slot to another is free. The system doesn't work on table games, however.

Note: This "cashless" system is almost too easy. If you're winning a lot on the slots, it's great ... all of the winnings can go into your card bank to be used on another machine or even on another day, or you can cash out your winnings. If you aren't so lucky you might lose track of how much you draw out to play, so use caution.

There are several blackjack and poker tables (including a Texas Hold 'Em alcove), a roulette wheel, and a craps table. Tournaments are held during the cruise with a fairly low buy-in.

The two-deck main showroom, Universe Lounge, is located at the bow of Fantasy, and despite it having been toned down from its original wild design, it still has bright red neon stretching across the ceilings and stage front. Although there are several posts that can be obstructive, the theater has plenty of comfortable banquette seating, so finding a good spot shouldn't be too hard. The production shows are energetic, colorful and fun; the individual performers range from ho-hum to really compelling.

During the most recent Fantasy refurbishment, one of the passenger hallways on Empress Deck was turned into an "Art Gallery," with the Park West inventory on view prior to the daily art auctions. Of course there's daily bingo as well, and trivia challenges of just about every kind imaginable.

Fitness and Recreation

Spa Carnival, located at the forward section of the Sports Deck, has been renovated to reflect the classiness of the rest of the ship. New equipment, the latest in high-tech workout gear, has been installed, and a new aerobics room added. There are men's and women's sauna and steam rooms, a whirlpool spa between them, and a forward view from the treadmills and ellipticals. The spa treatments include massages and wraps, with several specials on shore days ($99 for three treatments). There's a beauty salon for hair and nails, and classes in yoga and Pilates at an additional fee of $10.

A new, fun nine-hole mini-golf course has been added to the Sun Deck.

The central Lido Deck pool features Carnival's signature spiral slide, not limited to use by children. We saw plenty of 60-somethings repeatedly climbing the stairs for another go at it, big smiles on their faces. There is a quieter pool at the aft, with tons of deck space for sunning.

Although there is no ship-circuit outdoor promenade, the Verandah Deck does offer a walking-jogging track.

There's a half-court for basketball, Ping-Pong tables, a volleyball court and a topless sunbathing area for those who prefer European-style sunning.

Family

"Fun Ships" are meant for family fun, and Fantasy is no exception.

The children's area, located behind the Majestic Bar, is divided into three main rooms, with colorful, age-appropriate materials in each. There's the new Club 02 for teens, and Camp Carnival for youngsters aged 2 to 14. (Carnival is one of the few lines to allow non-potty-trained kids to participate.) All the programs are administered by trained professionals, and are designed to ensure maximum fun and safety for the kids.

Special teen-only shore excursions are designed by the kids themselves; they are accompanied by counselors from the programs. The younger kids get sleepovers, pizza parties, dance lessons, movies, and -- of course -- the ubiquitous video games.

Group babysitting is available for $6 per hour for the first child, and $4 per hour for each additional sibling in the same immediate family.

Fellow Passengers

Most of the guests on the cruise I took had driven to Port Canaveral from southeastern cities. It's an ideal short getaway, and although there weren't a lot of children onboard during my cruise (school was in session) there most likely will be plenty of kids during the summer months. All age groups were represented, and I met a lot of first-time cruisers who loved the experience and vow to return. The average age group was late 30's to mid-40's.

Dress Code

There is one formal night on each of the four- and five-night cruises; otherwise, dress is casual during the day and a bit dressier at night. Carnival's material asks for "resort casual" for dinner in the dining rooms, and most people looked quite spiffy indeed. No tank tops or shorts allowed in the main restaurants for any meal.

Gratuity

Carnival adds $10 per day to your shipboard account for basic tips, but makes sure you know that the maitre d' is not covered. An envelope to give him cash is delivered to your room on your last day; apart from that, you are free to add to or subtract from the amount on your account, but most people leave it and tip further in cash. My room team made me feel like a celebrated princess ... it was easy to offer them an additional tip. Heck, the perfectly executed towel animals that greeted me each night were alone worth some extra.

--by Cruise Critic contributor Jana Jones, who has also written for a variety of publications, including Vacation Agent, UK's Travel Holidays and Ocean Drive Magazine.

Cruise Critic

Cruise reviews are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community and online resource for objective cruise information, published by The Independent Traveler. Copyright 1995-2009, The Independent Traveler, Inc. All rights reserved. Travelocity.com LP neither assumes any liability nor makes any representations with respect to cruise reviews and other content provided by CruiseCritic.com. Before relying on any information in a cruise review, we recommend that passengers confirm the information with the cruise line.