Last week, my husband and I decided to sneak away for the weekend. Our daughter already had a trip planned with my mom (New York City- hello!) so it was the perfect time to celebrate our 9 year wedding anniversary. Our first thought was a weekend in Las Vegas but after some pricing around, I figured out it isn’t as budget friendly as it used to be. Because this trip was so last minute we didn’t want to drop a fortune on our weekend getaway. We have been able to find inexpensive cruises in the past so decided to see what we could find. Carnival consistently had the best prices, no matter which port we selected to leave out of. We ended up booking a 4 night cruise leaving out of Jacksonville, Florida on the Carnival Fascination. This cruise stopped in Freeport and Nassau Bahamas with an additional day at sea.
The Jacksonville port is only about 6 hours from where I live. We decided to leave around 5:00 a.m. Thursday morning to give us plenty of time to get there and make our way through security. We stopped at the Florida Welcome Center for juice. I’m team grapefruit juice and my husband is team orange juice. We took our obligatory #ojselfie and #gfselfie pictures and headed back on the road. Once we got to the Jacksonville port (with a quick detour through homeland security, don’t ask I was driving) we decided to park in the Sandlot parking lot. The Sandlot is located across the street from the port parking and is half the price. If you book a parking spot ahead of time it is $7.00 a day and if you just show up they charge $10. We didn’t book ahead of time but did mention the $7.00 pricing and my husband was able to negotiate a deal. It’s worth mentioning because he saved us $3.00 a day which is like an extra cocktail on the ship. From there, we took a shuttle, complimentary with parking, over to the terminal for the ship. Even though we arrived early, lines were long and it took a long time to get on the ship.
Once we finally got on the ship, our room was ready so we snapped a few pictures and ventured off to see where we’d be staying. Because we booked on a budget, we selected an interior room. I don’t typically like interior rooms but I decided to go with it for the sake of love. We found our room and man was it small. I’m standing in the doorway right beside that bathroom and the closet in this picture. Don’t let the curtain fool you, I can assure you there is no window. Although my interior room was so so small, it was clean which is all I really care about. At this time luggage was being brought to the rooms but ours hadn’t arrived so we decided to grab some lunch. Even though the ship hadn’t set sail yet, the lido deck buffets were completely stocked with food. Being on a budget, we hadn’t stopped to eat in anticipation they’d be serving lunch on the ship since everything is included in the price. My husband had a variety of things like a burger, chicken fingers and fries while I opted for a salad from the salad bar and a slice of pizza. I’d be lying if I said I was impressed with the food on a Carnival cruise, however, I have cruised with them before and knew what to expect. That’s mostly why I opted for a salad, it’s really hard to mess those up. After our lunch we grabbed our first of many ice cream cones and went exploring. After everyone was on the ship, it was time for the safety briefing. This is my least favorite thing about cruising. Depending on where your room is, you will be instructed what area of the ship to meet in. This is the designated area that if there is an emergency, you will need to report to. In that area, you’ll learn about your personal flotation device and where to go to get on an emergency boat. This takes quite a long time and there are so many people, it’s really just a hassle but I realize it has to be done. Once this is over, the boat is cleared to leave the port and we were on our way. We grabbed a couple of chairs on the serenity deck and watched the sunset as we sailed away from land.
The rest of our time spent on the ship was fun. We went to comedy shows, played trivia, spent time in the piano bar and had a lot of fun playing in the casino. The ship’s staff was friendly and very eager to help you if you need anything. It seemed like everywhere you turned there was a band playing or some type of activity going on – I guess that is why it’s coined the “Fun Ship”. For the most part, you couldn’t tell our ship was ever on the water. It was smooth sailing up until the last day, which sadly was the day at sea. The winds were high and there were 10 foot swells in the ocean which made for a rocky day. I don’t have trouble with sea sickness but I did have a few moments where I needed to take a deep breath to settle my stomach. This was also very noticeable when we were in our cabin. My lipstick actually rolled off of the table which was pretty funny at the time.
As I already mentioned, I was disappointed in the food. I used to love the food on a cruise, it’s really hyped up but I feel like they’ve really cut their budget in that department. The dinners remind me of tv dinners that are just reheated and brought out to you. While a few things were good, chilled strawberry soup, crab cake appetizer and the melting chocolate cake, nothing on the menu is a standout. Lunch, in my opinion, is even worse. Thankfully two of the days we were off the ship for lunch and were able to enjoy some local cuisine. Lunch options included burgers, hot dogs, french fries, chicken tenders, Italian offerings, a Mongolian wok, salad bar and a dessert bar. Most of the time it just looked too picked over to be appetizing for me. Luckily, toward the back of the ship there was a deli and pizza counter where you could get fresh sandwiches or a slice of pizza. I enjoyed the pizza enough to have it several times during our vacation. Breakfast, however, was fantastic. We took advantage of the made to order omelette bar which was great. My order looked something like egg whites, mushroom, bacon, jalapenos and extra cheese every morning. There was always a steady line for the omelette station but they had several skillets going and the line moved quickly. Other breakfast items included french toast, pancakes, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, grits, oatmeal, eggs and many other items you’d typically find at a breakfast buffet. We quickly learned to fill up at breakfast to get us through the day.
All in all, I really enjoyed our vacation. Carnival Cruising is so doable on any budget that I can take the bad with all the good it provides. We had a wonderful anniversary celebration and I can’t wait to see what many more years have in store for my family.
Here are a couple of tips if you are sailing with Carnival:
- Bring your own soda. Carnival allows each person to bring a 12 pack of soda in your carry-on. This can save a lot of money if you are a soda drinker like me.
- Bring a bottle of wine. Carnival allows each person over 21 to bring one small bottle 750ml or less on the ship with you.
- Bring your own coffee creamer. My husband is a big coffee drinker but he loves flavored cream and sugar. There were no options other than straight cream on the boat. A couple sitting next to us a brunch had a small travel size of Coffee Mate 2Go. I have seen these at my local Walmart in flavors like french vanilla, peppermint mocha, sweet and creamy and hazelnut. This would have been perfect for my husband.
- Snacks. I am a snacker. I love a handful of nuts, a few chips, pretzels and other snacky foods throughout the day. There is nothing like this offered on the boat other than a few prepacked goodies I found on the last day tucked in a corner at the gift shop. I wish I would have packed some almonds, chips and candy to take with us. If you have kids this is a must!
- Pack your swimsuit in your carry-on. Our luggage didn’t arrive at our room until dinnertime, several hours after the boat left. Had we wanted to swim, we wouldn’t have been able to since our suits were packed away.
- Volunteer for games and activities. I could really kick myself for this. We went to the opening show after we set sail to see what activities would be taking place on our vacation. The crew needed volunteers to play a game and my husband really wanted to raise his hand. I wouldn’t let him because I am horrible at games and embarrass easily. Had he raised his hand, we would have been chosen since there were no other volunteers. Both couples that participated got a ton of goodies including VIP seats for all the shows, bingo cards and a lot of swag. Little did I know bingo was going to be so expensive on the ship. Volunteer, it’ll be worth it!
I hope these tips help if you are a cruise newbie like myself. In the next few posts I am going to be reviewing Freeport and Nassau Bahamas and showing you guys what we saw and did while visiting. If you’d like to join in on the conversation, I’d love for you to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!