Charleston is a great cruise embarkation port, especially for those of us who live in the southeast or mid-Atlantic states. It's less than a 6-hour drive from my home near Atlanta, and Charleston is widely considered to be one of America's finest cities. For our 5-night cruise on the Carnival Fantasy, I drove to Charleston and rendezvoused with a high school friend before driving to the luxurious Charleston Place hotel, where we spent the two nights before our cruise.
Although the Carnival Fantasy no longer sails from Charleston, the Carnival Ecstasy is now sailing from Charleston to the Bahamas year-round. The Carnival fun ship experience we had on the Carnival Fantasy is very similar on the Carnival Ecstasy.
Charleston Place reminds me of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, and is part of the Orient Express network, so you know it is nice. It sits right downtown between Meeting Street and King Street next to the city market, so everything is within easy walking distance. I didn't move my car out of the garage until we were ready to go to the ship.
To start our trip out right, we went for celebratory (and expensive) drinks at the Pavilion Bar, which is on the top of a building and provides nice views of the city. I had a cucumber martini and Maggie had a pineapple one. We enjoyed reconnecting in such a delightful city. After lingering over our drinks, we walked up to the Amen Street Restaurant for shrimp and grits--a Charleston specialty. The salad we split was delicious--filled with some of my favorites such as blue cheese, cranberries, and nuts. We were both tired, so were back at the hotel before 9:30 and asleep soon after in our elegant hotel room.
The next day, we ate a light breakfast before walking to the tourist bureau. We started our "day in Charleston" with the Gray Line 1.5 hour air-conditioned bus tour. The day was much hotter than the day before, and we were glad we opted for the bus rather than a walking or carriage tour. My friend had done a Gullah tour the day before I got there, and she said the Gray Line was a good supplement/contrast to it. After the informative bus tour, we walked to the one major historical house in Charleston that has been preserved, but not restored. It's the Aiken-Rhett house near the visitor's center. It was interesting, and we had audio head sets to point out features of the house and outbuildings. After the tour, we ate a sandwich nearby and walked back towards the downtown area, where we toured two more homes that had both been restored, the Nathaniel Russell House and the Edmundson-Alston House. We were both glad we had done the Aiken house first, because it showed just how much effort and money it took to restore one of these old homes.
We went to an old church that had been transformed into the Mad River Bar & Grill for happy hour - you can't beat $4 martinis. We both tried the purple grapefruit martini with vodka, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, and blue curacao. Very nice! We had reservations for the 9:30 pm "Ghost and Graveyards" walking tour, so we ate a late dinner outside at Pearlz, a cute restaurant on East Bay. We split a fried shrimp appetizer, followed by a salad and a crab meat/spinach pizza. We walked back to the hotel for a while before going to the tour, which started near the market. Our guide was "Hoon Calhoun" and he was quite an actor. We didn't walk much, but he was a great storyteller. The evening was very hot and muggy, and standing for long periods was tiring, but it was an interesting evening. We were back at the hotel by midnight.
Carnival Cruise - Embarkation and Sailaway from Charleston; Day at Sea
Our last day in Charleston, we ate a big breakfast at a local cafe before returning to a couple of the graveyards for a look in the daytime. The old graveyards were not nearly as spooky in the sunshine as they were when we visited on our tour the night before. Of course, our guide's tales of being buried alive and ghosts added to the creepy feeling from the evening visit!
We split a salad for lunch since we weren't sure about lunch on the ship. We left the hotel about 1:00 pm, and it took a little bit for us to figure out how to get into the Carnival parking lot, but we made it. Our hotel was just a few blocks from the Carnival Fantasy, but some of the streets were blocked, so it took a little navigating to get to the correct street.
The line of cars was long but went quickly. The process was efficient. We dropped our large bags at a tent before parking the car. After parking, we took a shuttle bus with our carry-on to the cruise terminal. Checking in was quick and smooth, and we were in our cabin less than an hour after leaving the hotel parking lot.
The Carnival Fantasy sailed for the Bahamas at 5 pm. We enjoyed great views of the harbor, the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, the Ravenel Bridge, and Fort Sumter as we left this fascinating old city and sailed south.
Day at Sea on the Carnival Fantasy
The first and last days of our 5-night/four-day cruise on the Carnival Fantasy were at sea. Some passengers spent their sea time enjoying the pool and outdoor deck areas, others enjoyed staying indoors in the gym, spa, casino, shops, or restaurants.
This comprehensive pictorial tour of the Carnival Fantasy provides information on the ship and its onboard activities and entertainment.
Next Page > > A Day in Freeport, Bahamas > >
Things to Do with a Day in Freeport
We had a day at sea before arriving in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas. Like most of the passengers, we had no trouble finding indoor and outdoor activities on the Carnival Fantasy to keep us busy.
We awoke on Sunday morning in Freeport. Ships dock at a commercial pier, and it's a few miles into town. There are a few souvenir shops at the pier, and Maggie and I had a kayak/snorkeling tour scheduled.
We left on a bus with 20 people at about 8:30, and drove across the island to the kayaking tour site, where we transferred into smaller vans of 10 persons each. Our guide was named Chad, and he was quite good. His English was excellent, and although he warned us he might slip into "Bahamian", he never did. He provided some history of the island and the Bahamas while we drove to Barbary Beach on the south coast of Grand Bahama Island. This island is one of the northernmost of the Bahamas and was filled with pine trees, palmetto, and flaming orange poinciana trees.
Barbary Beach was gorgeous--a white beach with turquoise seas. We were to kayak about 30 minutes to Peterson Cay, which is the smallest national park in the Bahamas. It seemed to be just a speck WAY AWAY on the horizon, but the 12 kayaks took off for the Cay. Maggie and I quickly determined our kayak was defective since we had a difficult time keeping it straight. (We ruled out operator error, but wondered if our age/weight might have slowed us down and factored into the zigzagging.)
Due to our crooked course, we paddled about twice as far as the others. After finally arriving at the island, we wolfed down a short snack before going snorkeling with our guide. Our group snorkeled for over an hour, making us a little waterlogged when we returned to the beach for sandwiches and drinks. The two guides had carried lemonade, tea, water, cookies, sandwich makings, and condiments in their kayaks. Glad they didn't make us carry it!
After lunch, we had time for a quick swim before re-boarding the kayaks for the return trip. A thunderstorm loomed in the distance, so we tried to paddle harder, but we still seemed to zigzag. Maggie had to keep using her paddle as a rudder to straighten us, and we both laughed almost as hard as we paddled. Good news is that we didn't tip over and made it back to Barbary Beach safely.
We got the kayaks loaded on the trailer, and Chad took us back to the ship, arriving about 3:30 or so. The shower felt terrific, and we both kind of flaked out until time to get ready for dinner. It was a fun day!
The Carnival Fantasy had over 20 organized shore excursions in Freeport. In addition to the "Peterson Cay Kayak & Snorkel Tour" described above, the ship offered bicycle, ATV, jeep, and Harley motorcycle land tours. A second kayak tour had passengers paddling through a mangrove forest and doing a nature hike. Those who love the beach, snorkeling, and diving had several water-based tours to choose from, and three "dolphin tours" were available for those who wanted to swim with these fascinating creatures. My husband would enjoy the bottom fishing for snapper, triggerfish, and whatever else was biting.
Although most of the tours were activity-oriented, the ship did include three sightseeing tours. The first was a Grand Bahama Island and Freeport bus tour, the second was a guided tour of the Garden of the Groves and Freeport, and the third was a Western Heritage tour. This tour included stops at five heritage sites on Grand Bahama--Mermaid Pond and Pinder's Point Lighthouse, Hawksbill Creek and Boiling Hole, Holmes Rock and Josey's Cave, Fern Gully, and one of Grand Bahamas' most beautiful beaches.
Next Page > > A Day in Nassau, Bahamas > >
Things to Do with a Day in Nassau
Our next stop on the Carnival Fantasy was in Nassau. It was another sunny day in Nassau, and our "Blue Water Catamaran Snorkeling & Beach" tour left at a more civilized hour--9:30 am. The boat was packed, but we could sit in the shade for the 45-minute ride to the snorkeling location. They never raised the sails, and we motored past Paradise Island and the famous Atlantis Resort on our way to the Rose Island Reef. Snorkeling was better than I feared it would be. We had a big crowd, but they were very organized, and we all were in the water quickly.
After about 45 minutes of snorkeling, we re-boarded the Sweetie Pie catamaran and motored the short distance to Rose Island. It had a gorgeous white sandy beach and crystal clear water, much like a pool. We wore our hats and sunglasses and kind of bobbed in the water for about 45 minutes. It was very relaxing and a perfect ending to our morning. On the way back to Nassau and our ship, it poured down rain for about 10 minutes, but we were under cover. Maggie and I took showers and ate lunch when we returned to the ship. We had the Mongolian wok, which was very good--you pick the meat and veggies and they cook them for you.
After lunch, we walked back into town and did some exploring. We browsed through the straw market, and I couldn't help but notice that the market had some of the same handicraft stuff I've seen all over the world. We browsed through a few jewelry stores but didn't buy anything. We hiked inland a bit and found ourselves at Fort Fincastle, which dates back to the late 1700's. It provided a nice view of downtown Nassau, Paradise Island, and our ship. We strolled down the Queen's Staircase on our way back to the ship.
My friend Maggie and I really enjoyed our catamaran snorkeling tour and our walk around the city of Nassau. The Carnival Fantasy had about 25 shore excursion options for passengers who wanted to do an organized tour. Five were snorkeling or diving tours, and two visited the Discover Atlantis aquarium. Six visited some of Nassau's famous beaches, and five featured adventures by jeep, Harley motorcycle, parasail, kayak, or Segway. Golfers had an opportunity to play at the Cable Beach Golf Course. Many passengers bought a day pass to the famous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, while others did a glass bottom boat or submarine tour. Nassau is filled with history, and three historical tours covered the island, its pirates, and its beautiful gardens.
Our last day on the Carnival Fantasy was at sea. We relaxed outside and shared stories of our Bahamian activities with our table mates and new cruise friends.
The 5-night cruise was over way too quickly. Disembarkation was easy, and my friend and I said our goodbyes. We had a great time reconnecting after not seeing each other for several years and developed some new shared memories. Isn't experiencing new travel memories with friends and family one of the best things about cruising?
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.