I am a planner. There is not a trip I have been on in my adult life, especially once I became a parent, that I have not planned far in advance with detailed lists of activities and hotels and restaurants-I love a good spreadsheet. So in October when I saw a fantastic deal on a Thanksgiving cruise leaving in about a month from a port that is an easy one day drive from my house, I had to just take a leap knowing this was a great opportunity and hope it would all work out just fine. The fact that we would be on the ship for our 14th wedding anniversary and I wouldn’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner really made it irresistible. I even convinced some good friends to travel with us. Plus, even though I had never been on a cruise, I am familiar enough with the major cruise lines that I was sure that Carnival Cruise Line would offer a fun vacation for my family. And I was right.
As it turns out, the beauty of a cruise is that I don’t have to plan out every detail of the trip because someone else has already done that. Once we made it to the port I could just relax and enjoy the trip with my family. Don’t get me wrong, I had some detailed packing lists going and I researched what we were going to do on our port days, but that was it. Each night a Fun Times guide was left in our stateroom and all we had to do was pick the activities that looked the most fun to us and show up at the designated time.
We sailed out of Charleston, SC aboard the Carnival Fantasy, the oldest ship in Carnival Cruise Line’s fleet. But Carnival has taken good care of this ship and it has aged well. We had an ocean view stateroom with a bunk that folded out from the wall that my 10 year old thought was pretty cool. The stateroom offered us everything we needed-plenty of storage, a tiny bathroom, and enough room for my family of 3 to sleep comfortably.
The first full day of the cruise we were at sea. It was a great opportunity to explore the ship and take advantage of all it had to offer. We had a yummy sea day brunch. It was a little cool and very windy but that didn’t stop us from playing putt-putt golf on the top of the ship. Our daughter spent some time in Camp Carnival watching a magic show and doing some crafts. While she did this my husband and I explored some of the adult only areas of the ship, including the casino. We tried out the water slides later in the afternoon, once it had warmed up a bit. We ended the day with the one formal night of the cruise, enjoying a delicious dinner in the dining room, watching a show in the main theater and then watching great comedy show in the Punchliner Comedy Club. We really did all of that in one day. It was fantastic!
We had three adults, two teenagers, and a ten year old in our group. And during the entire cruise there were shows and activities that everyone I was traveling with could enjoy. We watched a comedy show the whole family could attend and another that was just for adults. We watched a high energy Motown themed show and Hasbro the Game Show with life sized versions of Hasbro games. We played putt-putt, ping pong and enjoyed the pool as much as we could considering the cool temps and high winds we had during our entire trip. We watched a parade of Dr. Seuss characters and took in a Dr. Seuss story time. My daughter had fun in Camp Carnival and came home with some really cute crafts that doubled as souvenirs. We line danced on the lido deck and took a class on creating our own towel animals. We played Thanksgiving and 80’s themed trivia and spent a little time adult only time in the casino and the piano bar. I even took advantage of a port day spa deal with my friend and her teenaged daughter. Carnival really did an outstanding job ensuring that everyone in the family could have a great time and could do as much or as little as they wanted.
Of course the service was top notch throughout the cruise. It was fun to see what towel animal would be left in our stateroom each evening. The eating options were plentiful. We ate most dinners, including a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, in the dining room. We had breakfast and lunch and late night snacks in the lido restaurant where ice cream and pizza are available 24 hours a day and were taken advantage of often. I lost count of the number of ice cream cones my daughter ate during the cruise. I know it was at least three a day-breakfast, lunch, and dinner-but it could have been closer to 5 or 6. She was in heaven.
Our cruise made two stops, Freeport and Nassau. We spend our Freeport day at the beach. We were in Nassau on Thanksgiving and we took a really fun trip to the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo, & Conservation Centre. This is a small zoo with lovely gardens that takes just a couple of hours to see. The highlights of the zoo, and why we chose to visit it, are the trained flamingos that are free to walk around the gardens. The flamingos put on a show twice a day with a handler that has them responding to commands and marching in unison around a small arena. It was really neat experience and probably the highlight of the trip for my 10 year old, whose favorite animal is a flamingo.
When we got back from exploring Nassau, the crew was decorating the ship for Christmas! When I booked this trip I was hoping for some Christmas fun and the crew did their best to deliver. The Grinch made an appearance, the children participated in a Christmas program performed on the main stage with the great performers from the ship, and there were Christmas and Grinch themed crafts in Camp Carnival. But my favorite Christmas activity took place on the last night of the cruise. Everyone was invited to gather in the atrium of the ship where the Cruise Director and cruise ship performers led us all in Christmas carols and it “snowed” foam. It was such sweet way to end the cruise and kicked off the Christmas season for us.
This was a great first cruise for our family. We hit some really rough waters on the last day that led to Carnival having to cancel many of the activities planned for that for that day and had us all really glad that my obsessive planning included packing a wide variety of motion sickness remedies. Even veteran cruisers we spoke to said they had never experienced anything like it. As miserable as we were for quite a bit of that last day, looking back the trip was a fun and memorable one and we would absolutely do it again. And today if you ask my daughter about her first cruise she will tell you excitedly that you can get an ice cream cone whenever you want and that flamingos are awesome.
Story and photos by Jenny Banzhoff