Monday, November 4, 2013

Carnival Cruise Line Faster to the Fun…the Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre

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Carnival Cruise Line Faster to the Fun…the Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre
By Lucy Wolfe, Travel Time Travel

I love reading cruise forums, and before purchasing the Faster to the Fun option, I did my homework. For $49.95, everyone in your cabin gets to enjoy priority boarding, priority tendering in ports that have tenders, priority access to guest services and a special phone number, and priority debarkation. Your cabin is supposed to be ready upon your embarkation, and your luggage will be delivered earlier. Since I am a planner and crowd phobic to boot, Faster to the Fun seemed like a wonderful choice for me, even though we just booked a last minute short three day cruise. I was happy to see the option was still available for my cruise, as they sell very limited numbers of the perk.

Theoretically, boarding went: wedding parties first, then Platinum/Diamond cruisers, then Faster to the Fun.

For the second time, I was going to cruise the Inspiration out of Long Beach, California on its three day, one stop to Ensenada itinerary. The first time, debarkation was what I will describe was hell on earth, so I was especially excited to try out that perk. Before departure, I printed out our boarding pass, and there was a little symbol representing the Faster to the Fun option on the boarding pass.
The morning of embarkation, we were early checking in (around 10 AM) since we stayed at the Queen Mary hotel the evening prior and it is right next door to the port. Although there was no line, a Carnival employee physically opened one of the ropes and let us in quickly after seeing our Faster to the Fun mark. Check in was smooth, and the three of us each received cute little round stickers on the back of our Sail and Sign cards that clearly marked us as Faster to the Fun participants. We were handed a Priority Boarding card.

We then walked to where the luggage drop off was marked…and we made sure to inform the porter that we had Faster to the Fun. As we tipped him, he assured us it would go in the priority area and get to our room quickly.

We had some time to kill so we explored the Queen Mary shops. We returned to the boarding area and sat down in the Priority area. At this port, there was no distinguishing between Faster to the Fun participants and Platinum/Diamond cruisers…at some ports, there is. There were a few wedding parties that boarded…then we sat for a while…then they let Priority in, all together. Once inside the dome though, before you reach the “welcome onboard” photography area, we were stopped…and boy did we stop. We stopped for a while. They apologized and handed us letters stating a crane was in operation. I was wondering why they even let us in the dome…to just stand there. Then they started filling up the rope lines next to us. I asked an employee about the order of boarding…she stated they were Zone 1 and would go after us. Okay…at this point, I was not certain Faster to the Fun was a benefit…we’ll see.
We finally were let through after 12 PM, and they did indeed let our line go first. My Mom and daughter (age 19) went to the buffet while I took our items to our cabin; I wanted to see if it was ready. I went towards the elevator and the employee directing people told me cabins weren’t ready until after 1. I said I had Faster to the Fun…he repeated his statement…I said, “But I have Faster to the Fun!” He then said okay and let me on the elevator. The big dark doors were closed to our hallway, but I opened them and walked to our cabin. Room stewards were smiling at me and no one stopped me. The doors were open on either side of my cabin, but mine was closed and ready. No sign of luggage yet. There was a Faster to the Fun welcome letter identifying our benefits on the bed.
After the buffet, we returned to the cabin…no luggage. Disappointing, as we wanted to swim. Back up to the Lido, we partook in a plethora of drinks, then headed back to our cabin. Our luggage was outside our door…but so was everyone else’s. Not exactly faster to the pool time for us.
Later, we had to add money to our Sail and Sign cards. My mom used a kiosk and pointed me in that direction, but I wanted to try out my special line benefit, and boy was that fun…there was a long line. I sailed right up to the “special” Platinum/Diamond and Faster to the Fun line, and immediately an employee left the regular desk and came to me. Okay, so that was awesome.

Ensenada is not a tender port, so we did not experience that perk, but we walked right off the ship anyway. I would imagine that is a HUGE benefit, so I’m going to give that a thumbs up even though I didn’t try it out myself.
A few more times I used the guest services line, and it was wonderful. Once I called the “special” phone number and that was pretty useless, they just told us to come to the desk anyway. My mom made a special trip there to compliment our dining room service team, and while she was there a staff member quizzed her about how she liked Faster to the Fun. She said it was okay…that our luggage wasn’t early so she wasn’t sure if it was that big of a benefit. The reply was it was a new program and they were working out the quirks.

Interestingly, the next day we got a phone call in the cabin from the same woman, asking me about Faster to the Fun and whether or now our luggage had orange tags on them, because she was trying to find out why they were “late”. I told her yes, and we clearly identified them to the porter…she apologized and I told her we were not upset, and thanked her for calling.
We received a letter describing Faster to the Fun debarkation options.

Self assist (carrying off your own luggage) was to meet in the Paris lounge at 7 AM, while normal debarkation was to meet at 8:30 in the same place. There were only about 25 people in that lounge, and it was a mix of Platinum/Diamond and Faster to the Fun.

When the employee came in and told us the process, he did reiterate that we all had to belong to one of those groups, and to follow him. At 7:12, we headed out, walked the Atrium staircase down…and I saw the hell that I participated in back in March on my last Inspiration cruise. Self assist debarkers wound all through the 7th deck. They were already starting to be let off, through one check out station. We were led to a second one. As we lined up they started letting us off immediately. One man stepped out of the other line and stepped in front of me, trying to hand his card to a crew member…the crew member firmly told him that line was not “open” and he needed to go back to the other one. We walked off…short wait through customs, and at 7:19, I was outside. My mom and my daughter reported easy debarkation at their later time.

My final judgment is that it is indeed worth it. Despite not getting our luggage early, and despite not experiencing priority tender, Faster to the Fun is something I will definitely purchase in the future.