As a first-time cruiser, my boyfriend and I did not know what to expect boarding the Carnival Sensation out of Port Canaveral in early May for a four day Bahamas cruise. We only knew that we needed a well-deserved vacation, and after planning it since booking in September 2013, we were ready to get away. I am happy to say that I am a satisfied Carnival cruiser, and I couldn’t have imagined a nicer trip.
We flew into Orlando in the morning and used Carnival’s cruise transfer bus. I personally thought it was worth the money, and we didn’t have to wait longer than a half hour for a charter bus to pick us up. Once in port, we waited in a line for about 10 minutes, had a very helpful employee for a seamless check-in, and were walking onto the ship.
Our room was on the Empress Deck with an Ocean View. I was so surprised at how spacious the room was! The bed was spacious, the closet space was more than adequate (we didn’t use it), and I thoroughly enjoyed the large mirror space to get ready in. The bathroom was also quite large and I now have an obsession with the amazing shower head we had. Our bags arrived about an hour after we boarded.
Aboard the ship, we found plenty of things to do. My personal outdoor favorites were people watching, tanning and relaxing on every deck (we tried them all), mini golf, and the pool. There were plenty of activities for kids and adults alike. Since we’re two twenty-somethings with no children, we had the delight of relaxing and keeping a very open schedule.
Indoors, I thoroughly enjoyed the Punchliner Comedy Club. We only went one night to an 8 PM “family friendly” show. I thought the show was hysterical. Others at our dinner table also went to both the family friendly and adult shows, and they said that both were good. We agreed, though, that you did not have to stay up to 11 PM to watch the adults-only show, as the same amount of entertainment could come from the earlier one. We went to one live stage show during the trip, the 80’s themed show, and I enjoyed it. We also took part in various “game shows” and these were sometimes more entertaining than everything else.
My absolute favorite part of the cruising experience was the food. We found adequate choices on the Lido Deck at the grill and the buffet. There were always sandwiches, pizza, and ice cream available. Coffee, juices, lemonade, and tea were also available. My word of advice is to bring your own water bottle. I filled it up in the room daily (the water’s fine) and brought it everywhere. Another tidbit: If you would like to try the Mongolian Wok and if the line is always busy, take some time to get it during a port of call day. We had no line for our food while the ship was in Nassau.
We chose to do the 6 PM early dinner. Our table was fun and energetic. The food options were incredible! Sometimes the portions seemed small, but you have to remember there’s always dessert! I was able to try some escargot (amazing!), fried alligator bites, lobster, veal parmesan, and so much more. Everyone at our table was obsessed with the warm chocolate melting cake, and there’s a reason why. It was just to die for! Dessert is my weakness, so when we didn’t have enough to stuff ourselves with at dinner, we headed up the stairs to the lido deck to get some more with coffee and watch the sunset.
We had two ports of call during the trip-Freeport and Nassau. In Freeport, we booked the Beach Getaway Excursion with Open Bar ($50 per person). This in itself was worth the money. The words “open bar” pay for itself after two drinks. They had local beer, fruity drinks, and you could make any mixed drink you wanted. The beach was sandy, secluded, and sunny. We sampled local conch salad after a presentation on how to make it (highly suggest), and lounged the morning away. One downfall to this excursion was the photo we purchased. We bought one of the silly photo shoot photos for $15 because it was actually pretty cute. When we got home, we found out they never put the file on the CD. I wish I would’ve seen the picture again because after a few drinks, I may have been too tipsy to remember seeing how great it was.
In Nassau, we decided to recover from drinking (and we did not drink the rest of the trip) and did our own self-guided walking tour of downtown. This is hands down the best way to explore Nassau. Ignore all the peddlers and solicitations by just walking by and saying “no thank you.” We grabbed some Starbucks (yes, Starbucks) in the city and walked near the Parliament building, Queen Anne’s staircase, Fort Fincastle, and the John Watling’s Distillery. I highly recommend going to Queen Anne’s staircase. It was nestled in between walls of rock and was really secluded from the rest of the city (it was cool and shady on a hot day). Fort Fincastle showed some of the best views of Atlantis, the ships, and the city. John Watling’s Distillery was a FREE self-guided tour (if you didn’t sample) and there we found some of the most beautiful buildings on the island. We finished our walking tour in about three hours, and returned back to an empty ship before noon. I think this was my favorite day of being in port.
The best thing about cruising is that you can set your budget to spend at any level. I budgeted for $100 a day on the ship using the Sail and Sign Card. What was my final balance at the end of the trip? $29.67! We bought one drink each on the first day to celebrate, and one coffee drinks each at the café the last night to stay awake for the evening activities. Who says cruising has to be expensive?!
Debarkation was also quick and painless. We chose to do the blue tag option where they take your bags the night before and you leave the ship later. We had some time to kill before picking up our rental car, so it was nice to enjoy one more relaxing breakfast in port.
My final words of advice are some items I learned while on my first cruise:
1: You can say no as much as you want on the ship to the employees. They are just doing their jobs trying to sell you drinks all the time.
2: Unless you plan on using multiple electronics, you do not need to pack a power strip for charging. Since we didn’t use our phones other than pictures, we found that we were charging them less, and we could swap out phones in the charger when each were complete.
3. Tip your room steward. Just the fact that he knew our name and kept our room meticulously clean showed me that he really put in the effort.
4. You will eat. You will overeat. Diet beforehand and diet immediately after. Enjoy life, enjoy dessert every night, and worry about the consequences after.
5. If you don’t like loud, rowdy drunk people, you can still have an enjoyable cruise. They’re not everywhere on the ship, and I found we had more fun being sober than drinking.
6. Take time on the Fun Day at Sea to go to Seaday Brunch and get the most decadent item to you on the menu. It was well worth the time (can you say Frosted Flakes crusted French Toast?!)
7. Take time to enjoy every day’s sunrise, the sunset, and time with your loved ones. Vacations are meant to be relaxing!
8. You will feel like you are still on a boat for a few days after reaching land again. It will go away, but for the first day, it is definitely an annoyance.
I hope this review of the Carnival Sensation was as helpful to you as other cruise reviews were to me. I can’t wait to get back on another ship and enjoy all the pampering that cruising offers.