Ahoy there! I’m back from my time on the Carnival Fascination, which was my first ever Caribbean cruise (well, any cruise really) and I’ve learned a lot. This is going to be a mega-review on what to expect on the Carnival Fascination, how much it will cost you (from booking to drinks to laundry), how to save money with deals – and the best tips I’ve gathered. Oh – and get ready to see A BILLION PICTURES of the ship!
***CHECK OUT BARBADOS ON A BUDGET ***
I had a lot of preconceptions about cruises in general. I thought they cost a fortune, would be claustrophobic and full of old people (harsh, but I’m just being honest!).
I had never considered the Caribbean either. I thought it was for honeymooners. You know those holidays where you are stuck in a resort which you can’t leave because it’s dangerous outside and you won’t be able to pay your mortgage afterwards? One of those.
The long story short is that I couldn’t have been more wrong, and it was the best holiday ever and very affordable.
I *almost* want to say ‘cheap’, but that’s subjective – but confident enough to say it is an incredible value for money. (Check out these tips from the Humble Penny for travelling on the cheap when you have a low income).
The Ship – Carnival Fascination
Let me give you a bit of background. I don’t have kids and had three weeks holiday I needed to use up (we get decent vacation time in the UK!).
My boyfriend and I got out our Lonely Planet, Where to Go and When, which is an awesome book that does what it says on the tin, and saw that St. Lucia was a good place to go in May.
However, because of my preconceptions of St. Lucia, I wasn’t super keen (had a bee in my bonnet about going to Hawaii again!).
But then using my cheap flight trick for the Caribbean generally, I found £300 return flights to Barbados for the dates we wanted with British Airways. Considering I was thinking about spending £800 travelling to Hawaii, which took more than double the time – it was a no brainer. We booked.
‘That’s all well and good Lotty – but can you get to the Carnival Fascination bit please?’
Yes! We had three weeks booked in Barbados. In the biggest example of a first world problem ever, I started to panic a bit because I’m not really a ‘lay by the beach for 8 hours in a row, kinda girl’, and worried I was going to get bored, so thought we could maybe do a few days in St. Lucia too.
A cheap ferry would be good (classy as always!) but there are no longer ferries that run from Barbados to St. Lucia anymore. The only way across the sea is by a private charter and that was far too pricy.
A quick and inexpensive flight was my next idea – but they were coming up to £350 each – MORE than the flight from the UK. No way Jose!
Then I remembered a chat with an American friend who lives in the UK years ago about his obsession with Carnival Cruises. He said they were cheap and fun – so I thought I’d just have a quick look – assuming ‘cheap’ would still be thousands of pounds.
Carnival Fascination Itinerary
And then I discovered the Carnival Fascination and its Caribbean route from Barbados (although most people embark at San Juan). Click on the above link because seriously, have you ever seen a more perfect looking holiday ever?
It was a 7-day Caribbean cruise starting with this route:
- St. Lucia
- St. Kitts
- St. Maarten
- St. Thomas
- San Juan
Each port destination deserves its own blog post to be honest, so will write a fully comprehensive blog on each place – or this blog post is going to bore the socks off you!
Something that might be confusing – because it confused the heck out of me was that depending on where you are from, you’ll board the Carnival Fascination in different places.
So the ship does a loop around the Caribbean, and about 2,000 people will get on at San Juan and start their seven days there. However, about 200 people (usually from Europe and Barbados) will get on at Barbados and start their vacation there.
This does impact your experience somewhat. If you’re part of the 200 or so who get on the Carnival Fascination in Barbados, it means you won’t be able to use the Carnival app beforehand or during the cruise.
It also means you can’t book official Carnival excursions in advance either. Prices for the cruise as a whole differ a little bit too.
What annoyed me about that is that Carnival didn’t tell me this. I booked directly with Carnival and was waiting to book port excursions and it just wasn’t happening.
In the end, we booked all our excursions directly with tourist boards which we were really pleased with – and I’d urge you not to worry about if you do your research.
It wasn’t until I joined some Carnival Fascination Facebook groups (do it – it’s necessary in my opinion!), that someone told me they weren’t going to work.
As a Brit, I also didn’t get told what time to board until a week before (which stressed me out a little as I like to be organised) OR that I needed to get an ESTA to enter San Juan as it is part of the UK.
Sure, probably on me for being a bit thick and not thinking about getting a VISA sooner, but luckily we got one in time or we wouldn’t have been able to get off the ship.
Other differences between boarding the Carnival Fascination from San Juan v Barbados mean that if you get on at Barbados, you literally just walk on. It’s the easiest thing ever. Everything was ready for us straight away and it was all very quick (including muster which took 20 mins!).
We also got a long day (had to be back at 8 pm rather than the usual 4pm-ish) at San Juan (which was my favourite port!), as that was the day the majority of people were disembarking and embarking.
BUT – it meant we didn’t get a sail away party the day we joined and felt a bit disjointed from everyone else.
You know though, it didn’t really matter. There are differences, but you’re in the Caribbean – hardly a gigantic issue, right?!
How much is a Carnival Fascination cruise?
So the Carnival Fascination is a pretty old and small ship, compared to others in the Caribbean. In the Facebook groups, people kept saying that you go for the ports, not the ship.
And I was completely fine with that because as I said, I wasn’t even sure I WANTED to go on a cruise. I just wasn’t going to pay for a flight.
When I looked at the cost of going on the Carnival Fascination, I personally couldn’t believe how cheap the cruise was – it was around $500 dollars (it is often cheaper/more expensive depending on what time of year you go).
So that’s about £395, which for 7 days kind of blows my mind. That’s £56 a day.
In fact, I thought I was going to have to pay for food on top of that, but then noticed it is included in the price!
I’m sorry, but that’s cheaper than going to a caravan park in a rough bit of the UK! ha.
I bet actually, that my cruise and the flight to Barbados cost less than a holiday to Centre Parcs.
HOWEVER, you do have to pay some taxes on top, as well as gratuities (you don’t need to tip when you’re on the cruise), so in the end, I spent about £500 to go on the cruise.
That’s about £70 per day. It includes getting you to the islands (travel is expensive!), somewhere to stay and food. Frankly, it’s a bargain.
Booking a Carnival Fascination cruise
This is going to be mainly from a UK perspective, as it’s what I did – but if you are from the USA, I noticed in all the groups, people recommended that you book via a travel agent, rather than directly through the Carnival site.
I strongly recommend you join the forums (Cruise Critic) and the Facebook groups and talk to others from your country about what they did. They have a wealth of knowledge.
Carnival Cruises UK
That said, Carnival Cruises is catered for the USA and not really ‘in’ the UK, so I booked directly with Carnival via it’s US website (there is no UK site).
I found it really easy to do, though everything is in dollars – so make sure you convert to pounds so you understand fully what you are spending.
Now I thought I was super clever booking directly, but apparently everyone else in the UK is using an agent too!
If you booked through an agent in the UK, it would be great if you could talk a bit about your experience (incl costs) in the comments section.
That said, I would probably still book myself directly through the Carnival Fascination site. It means for me you had direct control over the extras on the website – rather than having to deal with a third party.
It also means that you can keep track of the price of your cruise, because if it gets cheaper at all, you can just email Carnival yourself and you’ll be price-matched, even after booking.
That said, I would 100% use a credit card to pay for your cruise. NOT because you can’t afford it (you should pay it all off straight away), but it means in the UK that you are protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Act, which means that your credit card company will give you back the money if something were to go wrong.
You know, it’s completely up to you how you book – just do your research.
Carnival Fascination drink package costs
Here’s the thing – the cost of the Carnival Fascination Caribbean cruise is super cheap. They’re not really making a profit from you just going on the cruise, they make the money from all the extras you might end forking out for.
And if you’re not careful, it would be super easy to spend on extras and the price of your trip will soar.
I’ll go into these extras individually, but the main one you’ll have to think about when booking the Carnival Fascination is whether you’re going to fork out for the drink packages or not.
Long story short there’s a booze package and a soft drink (fizzy drinks) package which you pay extra for.
If you do decide to pay the extra amount, it’s best to do it BEFORE you get on the ship because it will be cheaper.
Carnival Fascination Cheers Beverage Programme
I’m going to give you the facts (at the time of writing), but also my opinion on whether the Carnival Fascination Cheers Beverage Programme is worth the money.
It’s going to cost $49.95 (£39.53) per person per day, PLUS you need to add on a 15% gratuity, which comes to $57.45 (£45.47) per person per day.
Something to note is that all though people say you have unlimited drinks with this package, that’s not quite right. Carnival Fascination staff will cut you off at 15 alcoholic drinks (but you should be pretty sloshed by then!).
If you’re sharing a cabin with someone over 21 years of age, they are going to need to get the package too. There’s no getting out of it. This is to stop family members/friends ‘buying’ drinks for each other.
That said, I did notice that if you are a family booking two separate cabins, it might be worth splitting the adults across the two rooms based on those who do want to drink and those who don’t (rather than the kids in one room and parents in the other).
Is the Carnival Fascination Cheers Beverage Programme worth the money?
This depends obviously on what kind of drinker you are, and if you are planning on spending a lot of time at the ports – but I do have an opinion.
Drinks were about $10 each- well, cocktails anyway. If you scroll down a bit, I’ve taken pictures of drinks menus, so you’ll need to buy six alcoholic drinks every day to get your money back.
It’s probably not that hard to do, but I don’t think the Carnival Fascination is a party boat. We were up late most nights, but most people seemed to be in bed at 10pm!
Because the Carnival Fascination only has one day at sea, and then at a new port every day, it’s pretty tiring – plus you drink on the islands, which is a lot cheaper.
Literally, you can get off the ship and bottles of beers are $3/4.
As *we* decided to spend as much time on the island as possible, we just bought drinks when we were on there. The package would not have been value for money for us in the long run (though we did spend a couple of hundred dollars over the week on booze). We weren’t holding back, but we also didn’t feel the need to get our money’s worth.
I don’t think it’s particularly hard to not lose money with a drinks package, but I think it is going to be hard for a lot of people to drink 7/8/9+ drinks a day if you’re not going to be on the ship a lot and then in bed early-ish.
Carnival Fascination’s Bottomless Bubbles programme
Carnival Fascination’s Bottomless Bubbles programme is $52.50 (£41.55) per week/ $8.50 (£6.49) per day for an adult or $34.65 (£27.42) per child a week/ or $5.95 (£4.71) per day. Also, don’t forget to add on 15% for gratuities!
It’s worth noting that you can pour yourself as much water, ice tea or lemonade (not fizzy) as you want.
I’m actually quite a big soda drinker, so really thought about paying for it, but didn’t in the end and didn’t miss it.
Like I said, you’re off the ship most of the time (and I was drinking cocktails in the evening), so I could get my fix while off the ship. In fact, would buy cans of Diet Coke at the port (usually about $1 each) and take them on board and drink while waving the port off.
Something I think would annoy me a bit is that you have to get the soft drinks at bars, which tend to have a line. Just worth noting.
It’s not a lot of money every day, but it’s not a small percentage of the cruise as a whole – so think if you really want to do it.
What drinks can you bring on the Carnival Fascination?
You can’t take bottled water on weirdly, but you can take on a bottle of wine each which you can drink in your room (ask for ice!), or 12 cans of soda each. It has to be in your hand luggage though. It will be taken off you if it’s in your main suitcase.
People in the Facebook groups said that they brought back wine/soda at every single port – so you can always top up. They certainly didn’t seem to care when we would bring back four or five sodas.
I’m also pretty sure that you’ll get charged a corkage fee if you drink your wine at your dinner table, so keep your drinks away from the restaurant if you don’t want to pay extra.
Is the Carnival Fascination WIFI worth the extra money?
Arghhhh I don’t know. I’m on the internet ALL THE TIME, so wanted to fork out – but didn’t. And you know what, it was totally fine.
In fact, it was nice not to be tempted to check in online all the time. But not going to lie, the minute we were at the ports, we got off and found free WIFI to post our latest pics and Facetime family.
If you do want WIFI, pre-cruise price is $14.45 (£11.41) per day, but if you buy onboard, it’s going to cost you $17 (£13.42) per day. YIKES.
If you only want it for 24 hours, it costs $25 (£19.73).
It is worth noting that you don’t need to use WIFI to use the Carnival app and whatever you do, turn off roaming when you’re at sea if you’re not a billionaire Russian oligarch.
Carnival Fascination review
When we boarded, we got to the main foyer and honestly, the Carnival Fascination reminded me of an old Vegas hotel, like Luxor!
It’s grand – dark/gold, but feels a bit old. Not shabby, but old. We walked out to the pool and saw A BILLION people in it and decided that there was no way in hell I was getting in there at any point. Again, no biggie, the islands we went to were paradise, so I didn’t feel like I missing out.
It’s the only cruise ship I’ve been on, so I thought it was brilliant, though obviously, it’s not nearly as luxurious (though really comfortable) as others doing similar routes. That said the itinerary IS INCREDIBLE to the degree I want to book again for next year.
I’ll go into food, the room, extras, shopping below.
Let’s talk food – my favourite subject. I’m going to be brutally honest about it all. I’m not trying to be harsh, but if you’re going to spend money to go on the Carnival Fascination (especially if it’s because of my recommendation) – I want to be as honest as I can with you.
Food is typically free – as in, you can literally eat 24 hours a day without spending a penny extra, but you can spend extra.
It’s not a lot of money extra either, which I think is sneakily tempting. For example, *really* fancy cakes at the coffee shop are about £2 or you can get lobster and fillet steak for $20 at the restaurant.
The free food was generally good, so I was strict with myself and refused to pay for extras. It’s easy for all these little things to add up – especially if you’re on a budget.
Oh, I forgot! If you get on at Barbados, you *have* to do ‘anytime dining’, rather than specifying a time – which I think was ideal. Like I said, no waiting – and you can ask to sit in an area.
On the Carnival Fascination there’s a main dining room which is split into two (though we only ever ate at the main one). We only had to wait once for about 20 minutes, but you pretty much can go straight in.
Some nights the food was outstanding, then others – meh. That’s the truth. I will say, I am a ‘foodie’ and I eat out in incredible restaurants in London – not to show off, but so you can gauge how picky you are.
The waiters in the restaurant were AMAZING. They actually remember you and your name. They couldn’t do enough for you!
Oh, there’s also a magician that walks around that literally passed us every time until I made him do some tricks for me! ha.
If you’re British, you’re going to struggle with this – but you can ask for whatever you like on the menu, in any way you want.
So if you don’t fancy any of the starters (the menu changes every day), then ask for a main course as a starter. They’ll happily do that for you.
If you want two main meals, then do that too. We ordered three desserts between the two of us once or twice. It’s no big deal and you’ll see people order PLATES of food around you. Don’t miss out because of embarrassment.
Food in the restaurant is especially interesting on the sea day – where you can get fillet steak and eggs for brunch! (Get the cereal french toast on the side too!).
They also have chocolate stations and afternoon tea where the cakes are extra good.
Also, don’t forget you can get a proper, sit down breakfast at the restaurant too. Everyone seems to head to the buffet for breakfast, which in my opinion wasn’t nearly as good as the dining room.
Oh, and you can get breakfast delivered to your room twice for free. It’s not the whole menu (literally fruit, cereal, coffee, pastries etc). Which we did when we planned on leaving first thing to go to port.
It was a few dollars extra if you wanted something more substantial like a smoked salmon bagel.
There’s the buffet, which was, meh. We went once, found the queue quite big and the food OK. The main dining room is a lot better and you can still order as much as you like!
The buffet isn’t open all the time – so if you want to eat in-between main eating times, at the back of the room you can get deli sandwiches, hotdogs and pizza.
Out on the pool lido (but in shade), there is Guy’s Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina.
People go nuts for Guy’s Burgers and they’re pretty bloody good. You go to the grill, ask for your burger then go to the toppings bar and cover it with bacon/potato chips etc.
BlueIguana is open less than Guy’s, and is Mexican food. Again, there’s a topping bar with salsas etc.
There’s a menu with burritos and tacos, but I only seemed to be able to order a big taco bowl which was really good.
There’s the coffee shop with cakes too. Oh, and if you want to pay around $80, you can do chefs dining where people sit in the library and get served some awesome food. We didn’t do it, but people seemed to say it was worth the high cost.
But again for me, that’s a big chunk of money when you think how cheap the cruise is as a whole.
That’s it for restaurants really. There’s a sushi bar by the casino which is literally just a booth, no-where to sit with atmosphere.
Carnival Fascination Cabins
How pricey your Carnival Fascination Cruise is going to be depends on what kind of cabin you want.
As I’m sure you can guess, we went as cheap as we could which means we got an interior room, and let Carnival choose where we were rather than pick it out for a $100 or dollars more.
I was a bit worried about it, as I didn’t want to be stuck under the nightclub or anything, but as we are pretty heavy sleepers anyway, it wasn’t an issue.
In fact, the room was VERY quiet generally. We never heard our neighbours or everyday noise. The only time we got woke up was when there was a loud group of drunk people coming back from the bar being noisy.
An interior room just means you are in the middle of the ship, so you don’t have a window (the one in my pictures is fake), never mind a balcony -which costs a lot more.
Again, you’re not on the Carnival Fascination a huge amount, so I didn’t see the point of paying a load of money for a cabin with a balcony, if it’s just a place you intend to sleep.
I was slightly dreading the room to be honest. I don’t like being cramped but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s very clean and feels pretty spacious.
There’s a load of room to hang up all your clothes (two big wardrobes) and didn’t feel claustrophobic at all. That said, hang your clothes up, put everything away and keep your room tidy for your mental health! ha.
The bathroom was decent (I stupidly forgot to take a picture!), though the toilet did have a slightly weird smell to be honest. It was clean though, so we just figured it was the plumbing in general.
Oh, the bed. It was next level comfortable. Had a better sleep on the ship than I did in the fancy hotels I stayed in in Barbados.
Shopping and paid extras
I’m going to say it, I was disappointed with the shopping. I love shopping but didn’t buy anything. There are two main shops which are pretty small and a sweet shop which was expensive.
Everything is duty free, which is good – but also means the shops don’t open if they are docked at port.
There are always sales and offers, but I didn’t really believe it. I think they are the price they are, and the sales are false.
Honestly, I’m obviously savvy with money, so think I can get the same things cheaper back home.
And whatever you do, buy certain things like swimming costumes, sunscreen etc before you get on board. Here’s what I packed for my Carnival Fascination cruise.
The shops at the ports were better value for money, especially if you want jewellery.
I didn’t get it, but people were going nuts in these port jewellery shops and buying diamonds and gold. I thought I’d give bartering a try, but the earrings I pointed at were $600 and didn’t seem special.
Just because I didn’t ‘get it’, doesn’t mean anything though really! If you do plan on getting jewellery, do your research so you know what things are worth.
People were clearly really happy with their purchases!
So here’s where I think the biggest difference between the UK and USA travellers – the photography ‘booths’.
Photographers are dotted everywhere with backdrops you can get your photo taken in front out. They then get printed off and you can buy them if you like them.
AND I DON’T GET IT. I couldn’t think of anything worse than posing with my boyfriend in front of a fake staircase, but some Americans were getting all dressed up and queueing for ages to get these pictures taken.
Each to their own I suppose! I saw people were spending hundreds of dollars on these pictures.
Carnival Fascination entertainment
I genuinely thought I was going to get bored on the ship, especially as the pool and hot tubs didn’t seem appealing to me – but the reality is there is SO much to do on the Carnival Fascination.
There’s a bar everywhere you turn, but the casino is really popular. If you’re gambling there, you get free drinks.
HOWEVER – do not go to the casino for free drinks. It isn’t value for money. I read that because the Fascination is at sea, it doesn’t have to follow fair play rules – so the odds of you winning big at the casino isn’t great.
I don’t like Casinos, but if it’s your thing, budget for it and be really careful, because you don’t gamble with cash, you use your room card, which has your credit card connected to it. I think it would be easy to get carried away.
There’s Bingo too, which was about $20 a game, which was more than I was willing to spend. Some people win cruises, more people win nothing. Again, its about budgeting.
There’s loads of free entertainment too. Britney is in charge of entertainment and she is the hardest working person I’ve ever seen! So full of energy all the time and really funny.
I’m a big quiz fan, so particularly liked the Trivial Pursuit and music quizzes in the evening where everyone ends up screaming song lyrics!
We spent the evenings in the piano bar, where you can suggest songs and sing along with the pianist who you banter with all night. It was a lot of fun.
There’s also an art auction was interesting. You learn a bit how to bid, and there are really good savings. That said, all the art was thousands of pounds, but you could get it delivered all around the world for not a huge amount.
Carnival Fascination tips and tricks
- Make sure your insurance covers your cruise. Your standard insurance might not cut the mustard.
- The ship and all the ports take USD (American dollars).
- Take on all the drinks you can. They will be cheaper off the ship.
- Buy a pitcher of cocktails if you can. They’re around $20 and will get you 3/4 drinks. It’s way cheaper than buying individual cocktails.
- You can take fruit etc from the buffet as snacks/breakfast when you’re at port.
- Buy an insulated water bottle to fill up from the free water points.
- Take all the medication! I’m talking cold and flu pills, stomach pills, heartburn etc. medication in the ports and the ship is super pricey.
- Carry antibacterial gel and try not to touch lift buttons, star rails etc with your hands. Thousands of people touch them every day and its the quickest way to get ill.
- Don’t bother with official excursions. Do your research (join those Facebook groups!) and do better, and cheaper trips with tour guides on the islands. I get that if you go with Carnival, they’ll wait for you if you if you miss the ship, but the tours are professional, well reviewed and it’s very much in their interest to get you back on time. It also means locals get your money, not a cruise line. I think its more ethical.
If you’ve been on the Carnival Fascination, please do leave your tips in the comments!
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