Travel Weekly cruise editor Fran Golden took her kids on a
vacation to Florida and the Bahamas, combining a four-day sailing
on Carnival's Fantasy with visits to SeaWorld and Universal
Studios. Her report follows:
ABOARD THE FANTASY -- I toyed with the idea of my kids' writing
this story for me. But I knew if the kids wrote the story, every
other word would be "awesome."
I didn't want to overuse the word. So instead, I decided I would
try to express their views.
I have to report, from their perspective, the ship was overall
awesome; the food, awesome; the entertainment, awesome; the video
arcade was way cool and awesome. And let's not forget SeaWorld and
Universal Studios: awesome and awesome.
That said, my youngest, Eli, who just turned 11, was a little
scared as we drove from the Orlando airport to Port Canaveral to
board the ship.
He had seen the movie "Titanic," and he kept asking questions
like was I sure the ship had enough lifeboats.
Eli was relieved when he stepped on board and glanced up in awe
at the ship's awesome atrium.
"I think we're in a hotel, not a ship," he said.
Letting go of my hand, he added, "Mom, something tells me this
is going to be the best cruise you've ever been on." (Well, Mom's
been on Seabourn and the like, but who was I to quibble.)
Erin, a cruise veteran at 14, was trying to remain calm and
composed. But even her eyes bugged out when we toured the ship and
discovered the large video arcade, conveniently attached to the
Both kids held out their hands immediately for cash. I
calculated this room would cost me about $20 a half-hour.
I pulled them away to tour the rest of the ship.
Erin was particularly impressed by the "retro" decor. Eli
declared nearly everything awesome.
The Fantasy would prove to be a real fantasy for the kids. The
show on the first night of the cruise even had bathroom and wedgie
Eli couldn't stop smiling.
Erin, by then, had found entertainment of a different sort,
ditching us the first evening in favor of other teens she had met
at a party, cleverly organized by the Camp Carnival kids program
staff, in the disco.
She now had her group of friends to hang around with, which, as
every parent of a teenager knows, means she no longer had any use
for Mom and Brother.
The teens hung out in the disco and video arcade, around the
pool (ordering virgin strawberry daiquiris with their on- board
charge cards) or at the Ping-Pong tables located a deck above the
Carnival offers a limited number of organized activities for
teens, such as contests, but in the case of Erin and her friends,
the activities seemed superfluous.
Erin did meet up with her brother and me at mealtimes, at my
insistence, and when she needed an occasional break from the action
(she would even sit at the pool and read).
With my husband unable to join us on the cruise, Eli took over
the role of my escort. He at first expressed absolute disinterest
in the ship's well-organized children's program, although at an
introductory meeting for the program, his ears did perk up at the
I had to force him to check out the Children's Playroom with me.
But when we got there, I saw how expert the Camp Carnival
It took them about two minutes to suck him into an activity,
helped much by the fact that there were other boys his age in the
Camp Carnival divides kids by age, so Eli did not find himself
with younger kids, as he had feared.
I went back to the cabin to enjoy some quiet time with a
Eli, describing his experience later, was beginning to sound
like a Carnival ad: "They have everything, Mom. You name it, I bet
they have it."
We usually opted for the Lido buffets for lunch and had
early-seating dinner, which I think works best with kids.
Eli was most happy eating items from the children's menu,
ordering macaroni and cheese and the like.
Erin, who has gourmet tastes, ordered the most exotic-sounding
appetizer and entree each night and ordered the salad and soup
courses, as well, all this much to the surprise of our tablemates,
who would eat only meat and potatoes and enjoyed the ship's
American night the best.
When I pronounced the food just OK, Eli looked at me very
critically and said, "I think it's good" before proceeding to
gobble down more macaroni.
We did not do any of the ship's limited number of shore
At Freeport, Bahamas, we followed other passengers onto taxi
buses to get to one of the markets, where we hunted for souvenirs
and the kids had a great time bargaining.
In Nassau, we strolled around town and then took a bus to
Ardastra Gardens, which proved to be a wonderful excursion.
The zoo offers a variety of animals and birds, some in cages and
some pettable, as well as a short performance by trained pink
On the way to the gardens, we passed beaches, and Erin looked
around at one point and declared, "This is beautiful," turning to
Eli and adding, to rib him, "Do you appreciate this?"
"I appreciate this, so shut up" was her brother's response.
There were some 250 kids on our cruise in late April. More kids,
as many as 600, are on the ship in the high spring-break and summer
The crew is obviously experienced with kids. Our room steward
surprised us each night with animals made out of towels, sometimes
decorated with our personal items -- a squirrel wearing my
daughter's glasses, for instance.
Our waiter performed spoon tricks, and when he discovered Eli
loves chocolate mousse, he made sure the chef made some for him
The activity staff let Eli join contests that were really
designed for adults, like the knobby-knee contest and the men's
hula-hoop competition. He didn't win, but he had fun trying.
As great as the ship is for kids, however, parents should be
aware that the emphasis is on adults. Some of the nighttime shows
are rated R.
And our sailing did attract its share of party types, some of
whom drank more than they should have.
At one point during our sailing, a fistfight broke out between
two men, and a young teen was injured by a wild punch.
The kids did not want the cruise part of our vacation to end.
They stayed up late the last night and were a little tired and
cranky when we had to get up to disembark.
After the hourlong drive to the Renaissance Hotel (across from
SeaWorld), Eli was torn between wanting to visit the park and
wanting to watch television (he was a bit cable-
I was beginning to think the idea of combining the cruise
experience with a visit to the parks was overkill -- too much of a
But the kids rallied, and we enjoyed a fun day at SeaWorld.
We especially liked the Shamu Adventure -- a whale performance
-- and the Hotel Clyde and Seamore comedy show, with sea lions and
otters. We also took in the penguin exhibit, because Erin loves
At Universal Studios the next day, we were lucky enough to have
an escorted tour, which allowed us to do all of the rides,
including the new Twister and Terminator 2, and to tour Nickelodeon
Both kids had been to Orlando parks before, and I asked them
what they thought of the combined vacation as opposed to just
staying in a hotel.
Neither hesitated to proclaim this by far our best vacation
"It's awesome, Mom. Awesome."