You could describe driving the few blocks from our hotel to the pier as “Hurry Up & Wait,” and you’d be accurate at least part of the time. From the rooftop terrace at the Restoration on King we could see Carnival Fantasy’s red-white-and-blue funnel, but the most direct route through Charleston’s maze of narrow one-way streets isn’t the right way to get to the pier.
Fortunately, whenever Carnival Fantasy is making a turn-around, there are plenty of policemen directing traffic. Following their directions and the signs we made it to the beginning of the parking process in short order. Unfortunately, from the appearance of the line of cars snaking their way into the port, it seemed that everyone boarding our cruise had driven to Charleston. We prepared ourselves mentally for a long ordeal, but were happily surprised that it took no longer than 45 minutes. The first stop after entering the line up is to show your documents to officials, the next is to pay the parking attendants ($15 per day), and then you proceed to drop off checked luggage before finally rolling into the covered parking area—an old warehouse building.
Shuttles were on hand to take everyone from the parking garage to the terminal itself—walk ups are not allowed. Security and check-in were completed in short order. The entire process took less time than we expected when we arrived shortly after noon, usually one of the busiest times of the day. By 2pm when we were relaxing on board we could see there were no cars waiting in line and arriving passengers sped through the process.
All in all, we commend Charleston for devising a method to get as many cars and people into the port in as efficient a manner as possible. It took us almost an hour and a half from pulling into the port to boarding Carnival Fantasy.