We embarked on the Carnival Sensation this month (January 2014) for a short weekend getaway. There were six in our party. This included two 10 year old cousins. The adults ranged in age from early 40s to early 50s. All of us are experienced cruisers. We have all been on the Sensation before, so had a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Based on our experience, I found many of the more negative reviews unfounded. First of all, this cruise should be a bargain if you book correctly. We generally take this ship when we can keep the cruise fare under $75 per person, per day. We don’t, as a rule, cruise during the “season”. We all live within 70 miles of the port, so access to Canaveral is fast and convenient. This was probably our sixth or seventh weekend cruise on a Fantasy class ship out of this port.
Embarkation was painless. We arrived later than usual, and within fifteen minutes of entering the terminal, we were in our cabin. We have cruised so many times that we had the “Preferred” embarkation experience, which is now sold as a precruise excursion. I booked the minimum accommodations, which were adequate. The shower was sufficiently large to accommodate my plus sized girth. The arrangement was simple. We had two beds joined as a king. There is a small desk, ample clothes storage and a chair in what we jokingly referred to as the sitting area. I commented to my wife upon entering, “Wow, honey, remember when we were poor and we thought this was swell?” This is the first time we have enjoyed an interior cabin without benefit of a free upgrade in some time. The stateroom was fine and the cabin attendant was exceptional. I did tip him $40 in advance. He was on the spot to deal with all of our needs.
For a 21 year old ship, the Sensation is immaculate. Our first cruise on this ship was immediately following her FEMA service after Hurricane Katrina. She has undergone numerous upgrades since and looks better each time we see her. It is obvious to the casual observer that much attention has gone into upgrading and maintaining this vessel. We found the crew engaging and solicitous. Due to the Platinum card, I assume, everyone thanked us for coming back. I’m always amazed that so many of the crew remember our names on such a short trip. Carnival is rivaling Marriott in terms of customer service training.
The food was good and plentiful. This is not gourmet cuisine. If you expect it, you’ll be disappointed. That isn’t to say that some of the main dining room selections aren’t awesome, as they are. Some were not so much so, but everything was filling and satisfying. The dining room staff went out of their way to meet our every need and remember our preferences. This is a training ship for new crewmembers, so the fact that they do the job in such a manner is impressive. If you do want a gourmet experience, I would highly recommend the Chef’s Table. We do this on every cruise, provided we can get a reservation. It is a $75 up charge, which might seem steep, but wines are paired with courses and the experience includes a galley tour. Chef Erwin rocks, maintains a spotless galley, and always provides a good show. He remembered us from two years ago. I sent him a thank-you note after the cruise. During the Chef’s Table, Erwin informed us that a cake had been prepared for our birthday boy, and sent us back to the main dining room after the event.
Another “excursion” I would recommend is the “Behind the Fun” tour. This takes you into the inner workings of the vessel, including the laundry, waste management, entertainment, crew accommodation, crew recreation, navigation, and bridge areas. You also get to see the brig and the morgue. It is always fascinating. Any Navy veterans out there will particularly appreciate this tour. I think it was $55 per head. I made everyone in my group go. Unfortunately, there were no weapons control stations to inspect (a Navy thing), but we did get some time in the engine control room. This really gives you an idea of how the crew lives and the many facilities provided for their use.
The shows were great. We really enjoyed the stage production as well as the adult comedy shows. The “Serenity” area is actively patrolled and not overrun with children. The kids in our group enjoyed Camp Carnival. They have been going on cruises since they could walk, so it’s encouraging that the programs are adapted to be age appropriate.
As for the port, Nassau, I’ve been there and done that. The girls and one of the kids went ashore on an aerobic shopping extravaganza. I stayed on the ship and ate. I think I had the better time. I like the ship when it is in port as it is largely vacant. I like not waiting in any lines for anything.
The casino was fine and graciously accepted our contributions. There should probably be more areas for smokers, as they all had to congregate in the few areas that allow smoking. The casino was one of these, but the blackjack and roulette tables (where most contributions occurred) were smoke free.
Disembarkation was not as smooth as boarding. The new terminal is clearly built for a larger ship, hence, I was surprised that it took as long as it did to disembark. For the first time in history, I think, we packed appropriately and didn’t have to wait for luggage. Still, it was a 45 minute process to reach the car.
Final note: There is a larger party component on this ship versus others I’ve sailed. Demographically, the passengers were diverse. Everyone we encountered was friendly and having a good time. The youngest cruisers were toddlers, and oldest appeared to be octogenarians. Given the discounted fares this time of year, you encounter many Florida residents and many first time cruisers. The only negative issue we dealt with was one adult coming down with the flu and one child coming down with scarlet fever after the trip. In fairness to Carnival, these were two of the passengers in our party who went ashore. Those of us who stayed aboard, they guys, arrived in port healthy and over-fed.
I will travel on this ship again and again, provided the price is right. She’s a well maintained old girl and fits us like a glove. I would never hesitate to recommend the Sensation. She’s getting better with age. I would, however, recommend outside accommodations. The balcony staterooms and suites seem overpriced to me, but might be worth the tariff to others seeking more space and exposure to the salt air. With correct expectations, the Sensation affords a wonderful and affordable escape.