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On Carnival, Affordable Way to Refresh and Rejuvenate

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By Hope S. Philbrick

When I recently stepped aboard the Carnival Fantasy for a six-day cruise sailing from Charleston, South Carolina to the Bahamas and Key West, Florida, I was exhausted. I’d been traveling for 12 weeks, returning home only twice in that time long enough to do laundry. To meet deadlines I’d squeezed writing time into my busy itineraries by cutting down on sleep. I’d crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice, caught a cold that transitioned into bronchitis, and was experiencing serious jet lag. I love my job, but at that point all I wanted to do was sleep in my own bed. You don’t always get what you want.

But sometimes, you do get what you need.

Three days into the Carnival cruise I felt renewed. By the end I felt ready to accept more travel assignments.

And this was a working trip: Imagine how relaxing the cruise would have been had I actually been on vacation!

It's hard not to realx when there are so many lounge chairs around and a mesmerizing ocean to gaze at. It’s hard not to realx when there are so many lounge chairs around and a mesmerizing ocean to gaze at.

I adore cruises; this was my sixth cruise, first with Carnival. Cruising offers the unique travel advantage of allowing you to unpack once yet explore a variety of different destinations. What’s more, it’s easy to tailor your activities to suit your shifting mood and preferences; do as much or as little as appeals to you. Sleep late or wake early in the privacy of your stateroom or under the sky on a deck lounge chair. (Gentle swaying of the boat promotes sound sleep.) Participate in group events or spend quiet time alone. Party hard, luxuriate in elegance or kick back and go casual.

Carnival, the world’s largest and most popular cruise line, began operating five-, six- and seven-day voyages from historic downtown Charleston to the Bahamas and Key West, Florida in May 2010. (Bermuda itineraries will be added in 2011.) A total of 65 Carnival cruises are scheduled to depart from Charleston this year, carrying approximately 140,000 passengers.

Refurbished in 2008, the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy has a unique retro-Vegas style. Designed by award-winning architect Joe Farcus, the ship boasts some eye-popping décor. The Atrium features a grand marble staircase, glass elevators and blue neon accent lights. The Cleopatra piano bar features life-size Egyptian sculptures and hieroglyphics. The Cats Lounge, my personal favorite public space, has an Andy Warhol vibe with artwork of oversized cans, kitchen utensils and food containers. Pools and hot tubs are available on multiple decks. There’s a 12,000-square-foot spa and fitness facility with state-of-the-art equipment. A new aqua park features a 300-foot-long water slide, 82-foot-long dual racing slides and a splash zone.

The kids' activities onboard are plentiful and parents can get some R and R with the Carnival KidsCamp.The kids’ activities onboard are plentiful and parents can get some R&R with supervised kids’ programs.

Carnival Fantasy is designed to appeal to and accommodate a wide range of passengers. From infant to elderly, athletic to wheelchair-bound, passengers represent a diverse range of ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds.

A typical mix of travelers includes extended families, groups of friends and coworkers, wedding parties and/or honeymooners, couples celebrating anniversaries, mother/daughter and father/son pairs, single travelers, parents with children, retirees, recent graduates, expectant parents and more. Whether you’re traveling with one or more companions or on your own, a Carnival cruise is a social experience—which can make it an especially appealing travel option for individual travelers.

I was traveling on my own, yet never felt lonely, routinely meeting folks at meals, by the pool, strolling the deck and while snapping pictures around the ship. Port excursions not only showcase different highlights of each port, they ensure you’ll meet people with common interests.

“The Carnival vacation experience is unique in that it offers a wide range of on-board dining, activity and entertainment options, along with a fun, spirited atmosphere that is unlike any other cruise line,” says Vance Gulliksen, public relations manager for Carnival. “All this, combined with friendly and attentive service from our shipboard team, enabled Carnival to earn a leadership position in the cruise industry, carrying nearly four million guests a year.”

When I asked them why they chose Carnival Fantasy for their vacation, my fellow passengers all cited cost as the No. 1 reason—most found deals working with a travel agent or on the Carnival website. Other factors included Charleston as the home port, port itinerary, sail dates and previous positive experiences on Carnival.

The cruise price is pretty all-inclusive – your cabin, plus all meals (alcohol and sodas are extra, see below). Between the 24-hour room service and 12 themed bars, full-service and casual dining rooms, on Carnival Fantasy you can always find something to nibble on. An extensive buffet is nearly always open. Casual eateries include a pizzeria, Mongolian grill and deli. Full-service dining is served at two scheduled times plus there’s a flexible dining option.

Live entertainment nightly is for all. Live entertainment nightly is for all.

Complimentary live entertainment includes jugglers, singers, dancers, comedians, game show-style events and more. “Our Punchliner comedy clubs and cruise director shows are very popular,” says Gulliksen. Also popular are deck games and the recently launched Superstar Live event, which allows guests to sing with a four-piece band and backup singers. Some activities are tailored for specific age groups: There are supervised programs for kids and teens in three age groups, while one sun deck with hot tubs is reserved exclusively for adults.

Energetic, service-minded folks working aboard Carnival Fantasy ensure that your vacation is fun. They encourage smiles with contagious enthusiasm.

Aboard Carnival Fantasy you can get the vacation you want and need.

If You Go

  • Driving to the new Charleston embarkation port is convenient, especially for folks living in the southeastern United States. Port parking is $15/day for standard vehicles up to 20 feet long and $35 for oversized vehicles.
  • Whether you drive or fly, I recommend arriving in Charleston at least one day prior to the sail date to avoid feeling rushed and ensuring ample opportunity to explore the historic city.
  • If you typically drink more than three sodas per day, consider signing up for Carnival’s “unlimited soda” program shortly after boarding the cruise. At $40 per person, it can save money over the course of the cruise compared to purchasing each soft drink separately. (Coffee, water, lemonade, iced tea, milk and fruit juice are free on board, but alcoholic beverages and sodas are not included in the cruise price.)
  • Tour Nassau, Bahamas on the public bus for approximately $2.50 per person. While not a guided tour with a narrator, it offers an authentic glimpse of island life and Nassau’s neighborhoods at an unbeatable rate.
  • If you’d like to rent a scooter or electric car in Key West, Florida it pays to comparison shop: Rentals are priced at $50 on the dock but $25 in town just a few short blocks away.
  • In Key West, Florida check out Kino Sandals (the shop is located in Kino Plaza at 107 Fitzpatrick St., just a few blocks from the dock). All of the sandals are handmade using natural leather uppers and natural rubber soles, assembled and glued using traditional methods in a variety of styles and colors that start at just $12 a pair for women and $14 a pair for men.


Carnival Cruise Lines

Prices for five- to seven-day Carnival cruises from Charleston start at $399 per person for an interior stateroom based on double occupancy and are subject to change without notice.

All photos: credit Carnival Cruise Lines.

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