DH, me, DD - 22 and DD- 17 just returned from a Thanksgiving cruise on the Carnival Fascination from Jacksonville, FL port. We have sailed on Disney 8 times, and this was our 5th Carnival cruise. First Carnival cruise was in 1993, we hated it, DH vowed never to cruise again, but then caved when eldest was turning 11 and begged her daddy for a Disney cruise. We have been fans of DCL ever since that cruise, but have sailed Carnival Southbound from Whittier Alaska, and DDs and I have sailed Carnival when I needed a quick, sudden break from life and housework. For my family, Carnival is the quick break cruise, planned only two or three months out, while DCL is our plan-from-opening-day-cruise. In August, after another bought of drama queen brother and his antics (he lives in another state, but he flies in once a month because he thinks we like him - and my mom has Alzheimer's and lives with me, so he figures he is "helping" by staying in my home, eating my food, watching my TV, making a mess. I don't much like him, but whatever, can't choose family!), I decided that I was growing resentful of doing all the shopping, baking, cleaning, cooking, and clean-up for holiday meals. Stupid brother never helped, he just ate our food and complained about life, with the occasional angry outburst thrown in. I wanted a break. Lo and behold, Carnival had a ship in Jacksonville with room on it. Closer than Port Canaveral from Northern IL, the days worked around school schedules, so I booked my family and my mom (because I can't leave her behind, she has Alzheimer's). Brother joined us. He roomed with mom. I booked the Grand Suite on Carnival, which was less than 1/2 the price of the DCL porthole room over Thanksgiving. This is the biggest room they have to book, and my girls, upon arriving, said they liked this room better than the DCL rooms. I reminded them we stay in verandah rooms on DCL, not suites! For the price, it was great. Carnival does not give any real perks for suite booking, other than what they call VIP (or VIPF? I forget). You get priority line for the terminal and debarkation. That's about it, but the price was still unbeatable for my desires! One of our big complaints with Carnival is that the service and crew are nothing like what we have experienced on DCL. After this cruise, I take that back. The crew on this ship was very friendly, always smiling, asking how your day was, and we often saw crew members cleaning the ship. This is very different from our previous cruises, where we would even joke that no one will look you in the eye in case you might ask them a question! Great crew experience on this ship. Shoreside pre-cruise, however, terrible. I had some concerns regarding my mom, and shoreside help was rude and unhelpful. Once at the terminal, however, they were fantastic! My mom was having trouble walking, and all I did was ask if there was a closer entrance for my mom to take, and they said there were wheelchairs available, and took my mom from the entrance, through the terminal, to check-in, and all the way up to the room upon boarding. It was great! Same when we left - a crewmember took her in a wheelchair from the waiting area on the ship all the way through customs and to our car. I am so very pleased with the service we received. While the service was great, Carnival does seem to have a very large majority of Indonesian/Asian/Pacific country crewmembers. It is still very, very hard to understand the waiters and many of the drink servers. I know DCL has a varied crew too, but Carnival does seem to have more from the Pacific/Asian region, and they do not have the English skills that the ones we met on DCL did. English is not my native language either, so I know it isn't easy to learn, but we have noticed that perhaps Carnival does not have the same standards that DCL does for at least the restaurant staff. But they were smiling and worked hard, and this is the first time I felt a desire to tip over the recommended amount for my waitstaff and room steward on Carnival. Other nice things - The slides - if only it had been warm enough to use them! But they looked great! My shipboard account bill was tiny! Ok, there isn't much in the gift shop I even want, as opposed to when I am in the DCL gift shop, so I just don't buy anything but a few Mudslides and BBC's. Nice for the wallet. Free drinks to order at the past guest party - order what you want, it is free! Live band at the shows. I really like that. The Sushi bar! From 5 to 8 every night, sushi! Chocolate Melting Cake at every dinner. It isn't too sweet and sugary, and it was very good. I do still prefer Mickey Bars, though. The Family Comedy Show was very funny and very family friendly. DH did not feel awkward with any of the jokes in the presence of his girls. The 80's show had lots of great music. My mom can't follow story lines anymore, so she really liked the shows she saw on the cruise, as they are all Vegas-style, not Broadway style on DCL. Extended balcony in the Grand Suite - so very nice, had two recliners and two chairs. Perfect for my family. Little tray with samples in the bathroom - nice touch. We had two little toothpaste samples, a Dove deodorant, shampoos samples, and soap. Left the soap, used the rest. The library - great place to check out books and games. Things we didn't like - Thongs and suggestive dancing at the family show is not my cup of tea. Encouraging the contestants in the Hairy Chest Contest to "get down and dirty", at the family pool, in front of the crowd of kids. Did the kids really need to see the men dance with the shower pole, and humping and grinding the deck like there was a partner under them? I will say, I did not see all of the contest, but it was replayed all through the ship on their monitors, so if you missed it, there was hairy man in all his hairiness rubbing his parts on the shower! Definitely not what should be at the family pool, in front of the kids. I would have felt more comfortable with pool antics like this at the adult pool. But, this is Carnival, different things are acceptable. DDs missed being called "Princess". That's just a Disney thing we really like and miss elsewhere. No push for hand sanitization. Many hand sanitizers did not work, and they were few and far between. No one handing out wipes. Everyone's hands touching everything, from the buffet tongs to the drink buttons. I know they didn't all use the sanitizer! I fear getting ill on a cruise, haven't been yet, so I just started bringing my stash of Wet Wipes (yes, I am an overpacker, but I do have anything you might ever need in my suitcase!) all over, and made my family use them. No hand sanitizers when boarding ship in ports. I almost ran over to the Disney Dream (we were docked next to her in Nassau) just to use the hand sanitizers that were set up at the gangways! It was funny to hear the occasional Carnival vacationer remark over how nice the Dream's area was set up for the guests that were boarding. I swelled with pride, knowing that was "my" cruiseline they were praising. The smoke. People were smoking right in front of the signs that stated an areas was non-smoking. There was no enforcement. Lots of smoke. Start times are only a suggestion. Nothing starts right when it is supposed to. Unorganized, in so many ways, even though this ship runs this route numerous times a month. And I really, really intensely dislike the way Carnival handles debarkation. Not smooth, and yes, disorganized. Has been on every Carnival cruise. The casino atmosphere. DH and I don't gamble. We like our money too much to throw it away on a chance (rather throw it away on a vacation, and have pictures to show for it! ). Some like the gambling, like my mom and brother. To each his own, just not my thing. That said, it wasn't the casino itself that bothered me, but the huge amount of smoke emanating from it, and it is right in the middle of the main deck used to go from point A to B, so you can not avoid the smoke. Eldest DD has a smoke allergy, and the smoke would waft down and up the open atrium (since we don't smoke, we are more aware of the smoke I suppose), and she would have trouble getting a good breath of air. She started to just walk in the stateroom hallways to go from one side of the ship to the other. The food, in a word, eh. I know people complain of DCL food, but I like it. Yes, it is bland, but I travel with my own bottle of Chipotle Tabasco and spice up the food. I always find many options on the Disney menu. On Carnival, not so much. This was not the case on previous Carnival cruises, but it appears some cost cutting is taking place. For example, I like fish, do not care for red meat or pork. One night, shrimp was the seafood choice. I am allergic to shrimp and lobster. Everything else was a meat, and it did not appeal. The meat cuts were not very good (according to the meat lovers), but the carnivores in the family managed to leave every meal full and happy. I lost 4.5 pounds. Not much to eat that I liked, and I was doing all the running around! I need to vacation more! The bath products - definitely not good. Dispensers in the suites, too, for shampoo and gel. They were filled with some bad stuff. The soap was not good. It was just all not good. Definitely not the H2O DCL products! Good thing we brought ours from our last Disney cruise! Bad response to an injury. I was injured leaving the ship in Nassau. No one from Carnival was around to offer assistance. I once saw a lady fall leaving a Disney ship, and out of nowhere came people with clipboards to take down her info and help her out. Kind of figured the same was going to happen when I was injured, but no. Perhaps DCL fears the lawsuit, but Carnival doesn't care? The photographer, however, that was two steps forward from me, upon my standing up again, asked if I wanted to have my family's picture taken with ship. I was irritated, and told him not with blood running down my leg! I know it wasn't his fault, but I had just been hurt, and I was in pain, so not very pleasant. Misspelled words in the public notices and Funtimes (Carnival's version of the daily goings on). It just bothers me to see "official" papers with misspellings. I should offer up my services as a proofreader (as poor as they may be). That's it, I have found my job on a cruise ship! Finally! Lack of family activities. There are adult activities, the kids club for kids, but really not much to do together. We vacation because we like connecting with our children away from the stresses of home and work and school. We enjoy the Mickey vegetable races, the frog races, the towel folding and drawing classes. Our days on DCL can be filled with activities as a family from waking to sleep. Not so on Carnival. Room service food was prompt, but the food was not good. The BLT, what my DH orders on every cruise, had 3 pieces of bacon, lots of lettuce, and two unripe tomatos. Very disappointed, as previously the Carnival BLT would be piled high with the B, and only a little of the L and T! And that's about it. For a cruise planned over just a couple of months, it was fine. Yes, it was bit hard to see the Dream from the Fascination while in Nassau, and say what you will, but the people on the Disney ship are of a different variety than the people on Carnival. Many, many families on DCL, many more singles and couples with different desires on a Carnival ship. Carnival certainly can be a "Fun Ship", if the entertainment is to your liking. We are just quieter people, I suppose, so it isn't our preferred cruise line. I still will sail it, because it gets me away. Disney will always be my family's preferred cruise, for it is the Disney bubble that we like to be in. We like it so much, that we would be happy to just stay on the ship for a few days, no care for ports (ok, Castaway Cay would be a must, but otherwise, the ship is our destination!). With Carnival, the ship is not the destination, but rather the mode of travel. Sometimes, that is exactly what I am looking for. And it is nice to know that on Carnival, I was greeted with smile!