We traveled with our daughter and her family (including 10 year old twins)who were all first time cruisers. They were happy with the over-all cruise experience, but my husband and I have cruised several times before (once on this same ship) and were a bit disappointed to see the service has declined considerably since the last time we were on board.
First the positives:
Embarkation was flawlessly smooth. We arrived around noon and were on the ship within minutes. Everyone was friendly and helpful throughout the process. Debarkation was equally organized and painless.
The ship was spotlessly clean and I noticed there had been a lot of recent renovations, including new carpeting and paint.
Our cabin was very comfortable and clean as well. The cabin steward went out of his way to make our stay enjoyable. Our ten year old grand-daughter was quite excited at the prospect of have a "cat-towel" on her bed in the evening, and based on his reaction when asked, I suspect our steward didn't actually know how to make one before we arrived. He did, however, go the "extra mile" and produced a cat-towel for her on the third night of our cruise. It's little things like that, that made the trip most memorable for all of us.
The addition of the water slides made our day at sea an exceptional experience. The grandchildren played non-stop all day long, while we relaxed on the sun-deck.
They kids also participated in some of the Camp Carnival activities and enjoyed it a lot.
We enjoyed the live music provided and wish there had been more. The piano bar was a great addition to the experience, as was the live band in the common areas.
Drink sales: Carnival has gotten too pushy with their drinks. Everywhere we went, we were bombarded by not only one, but every server who passed by. Yes, I may want to buy a drink, but no, I do not want to be solicited to buy another one every two minutes (literally!!)
Spa: My daughter treated me to a massage from the spa for my birthday. The massage was great, but when it was over, I was pressured by the staff to buy expensive spa products that would have totaled a good deal more than the massage package itself.
Tips: My husband and I enjoy tipping for good/great service. We also enjoy having the option to decide who gets how much of a tip, based on the services provided. Carnival automatically included the tips in our bill this time, and we'd prefer to not do it that way. We had great service (our cabin steward) and we had some not-so-great service (the dining room staff) We believe tips should be based on actual performance. We like to hand the tips to people personally. That way, we know they actually got the money, and we also get to decide for ourselves how much to give. I realize there are people who do not tip at all,but in our opinion, if the gratuity is included in the bill, it's no longer a tip, it's just a way of charging more for products/services
Food and dining room service: We were not at all impressed with the food, or the dining room service this time. We traveled quite a bit with my son when he was around the same age our grandchildren are now, and he was treated like royalty on our trips, especially during dinner. I expected the same for the grandchildren and was disappointed. The servers were kind to them, and joked with them a little but didn't go out of their way at all to make dinner anything memorable. There was a large table of twenty-somethings next to ours and they drank heavily every night. The servers were a lot more eager to give their attention to that table, than to give it to ours. I understand, they were making more money from that table, but it's kind of sad that it seems to have made such a difference in the service we received.
NOTE TO CARNIVAL (and all cruise lines) Pay attention to the children/grandchildren and you will win the hearts of the parents/grandparents every time! :)
Entertainment: Mediocre at best. I've never been overly impressed with the shows on board and am bored with the abundance of burlesque type dancing provided. Call me a prude (I'm not) but I don't care to see young women dancing in g-strings over ...and over ... and over again in every show. IMO, that belongs on a different kind of cruise.
Last bit of advice: Don't buy the cruise video. You'll likely be disappointed. It's a very generic production with only a few clips of your actual cruise cut into it. It's a waste of money.
Synopsis: Still a great vacation for the price, but Carnival Sensation needs to focus more on providing friendly service and less on pushing merchandise/drinks on the ship. Happy customers/cruisers WILL spend more money, and then everybody wins! ;)