Carnival Sensation August 30 - September 7, 2004
This was supposed to be a five night cruise to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, but turned into an eight night cruise because of Hurricane Frances.
My mom, sister, aunt and I went on this cruise to celebrate my mom's 50th birthday. This was my fourth cruise (Inspiration, Sovereign of the Seas, and Imagination), my mom's second cruise and my sister and aunt's first cruise.
Travel to Florida
We got a really good deal on a round-trip flight on USAir from RDU to Tampa for $107. We left RDU at 8:30, connected in Charlotte and arrived in Tampa about 12:15. We went to the taxi stand and a van came quickly for us and we were off to the port. It was $25 for the cab fare.
The cab driver dropped us off right outside the terminal. A porter took our bags. We had to wait in line before going up the escalator. Once upstairs, there were two lines. I think one said for funpass so we got in that one (even though I could never get my mom's cabin funpass to print out). It didn't look like it really mattered which line you got in. We had to wait about 30 before being checked in. We proceeded toward the ship. You can tell security has tightened up b/c our sail and sign and id's were checked several times.
The Ship and Cabin
This is my third sailing on a Fantasy class ship, so nothing new here. There was the typical wear and tear, but nothing unusual. I noticed there was a big half oval bar in the atrium area of the Empress deck near the information and shore excursion desks. I don't remember Inspiration or Imagination having this bar.
Our cabins were 219 and 223 on the Main Deck. This was my first time trying an inside cabin. It wasn't bad. I was worried I might feel claustrophobic, but I didn't. You just have that weird feeling when you wake up that you have no idea what time it is. If I had known I was going to be on this ship for over a week I might have opted for an oceanview. But for a short cruise, an inside cabin is definitely o.k. and I would book one again in the future. The beds have the new white duvets on them and I really liked them better than the old ratty bedspreads. With respect to a sewage smell, we did not experience one on our hall. I had taken air freshener just in case. The only place I did smell it was on one of the Empress deck halls and it was bad!
The crew was excellent on Sensation. On my previous cruise on Imagination in June, we ran into quite a few grumpy and even rude crew members. Everyone was really nice on Sensation...always saying hello with a smile. We had the early seating in the Ecstasy dining room. Adolfo from the Philippines and Carmen from Romania were our servers. Adolfo was the most cheerful waiter I've ever had and he did an excellent job. Carmen was sweet and soft spoken and also did a good job. I must say I think the maitre d's on this ship are very visible and keep their dining staff on their toes. Elvis, the maitre d, in the Ecstasy dining room was very visible and I even saw him in the lido deck buffet area several days. The assistant maitre d was also always visible in the lido deck buffet area. Tables were always bussed quickly and spills were mopped up promptly.
Our cabin steward was Aruna. He did a superb job...beds always made, bathroom straightened, new towels, new glasses, etc.
On a side note, five days worth of gratuities were on our sail and sign card. Even though we were on the ship three extra days, additional gratuities were not added. I made sure to tip the appropriate amounts in cash for the three extra days b/c these people continued working hard for us for the extra days (even though I had already tipped extra on our scheduled last night). I wonder how many passengers chose not to or did not realize that they should tip additional gratuities. That is surely a shame b/c the crew continued to provide great service and were going to miss several days of tips since the next cruise had to be cancelled.
The menu was basically the same that was served on the four day Imagination we took in June. The filet on the first night was a little fatty. I had the salmon the second night and didn't really like it. I really like the soups...the mushroom is good, love the pumpkin and there was a tomato one that was also good. My favorite desserts were the Guava Cheese Napoleon and the Chocolate Fudge Cake. Lido deck buffet was about the same as every other cruise. I usually had salad or some pizza. There was also an area where you could order a sandwich between the pizza and the bar, so I had a turkey sandwich several days.
We were supposed to be off the ship Saturday morning so when we went to dinner that night the menu was that of night one and this is how it proceeded the extra nights. Amazingly there was plenty of food. When I inquired about it on the second extra night (formal night menu), he said they would probably run out of lobster for the second seating. I think they ran out of cartons of milk on the last couple of mornings, but that was the only thing that I noticed running out.
Michael from England was the cruise director. He was pretty good. There were two Las Vegas styles show. I only saw the second one, "Hey Mambo"...it was good. There were three comedians. None were spectacular but they were pretty funny. There was also a magician and a juggler, who were ok. Typical pool side activities...hairy chest contest, ice carving, etc. As always, I enjoyed listening to the live calypso band, in this case "Tropical Vibes" by the pool. I spent some time in the casino playing blackjack. I think I ended up about $50 up so that was good.
My sister and I booked the stingray/snorkel tour prior to our cruise online with Soto's. Easy communication with them via email. Once we tendered, it was a short walk to where their van was parked. It was about a ten minute drive to the waterway where we got on the boat. We checked in and got snorkel equipment. I'm not sure how to describe the boat. I guess it was kind of like a larger version of a pontoon boat. There were several crew members and then about 20 to 25 passengers. We sped across the water for about 10 minutes. We then stopped and snorkeled some at two different spots. The water was pretty choppy so the snorkeling wasn't that great. We then went to the stingray sandbar. It's just in the middle of the ocean but you can stand up. The water is a about waist high. I enjoyed interacting with the stingrays. It's a little scary at first but then you realize they won't hurt you. My sister got a little freaked out when the guy from Soto's was kind of putting the stingrays on people, so she wouldn't come near them.
The boat has coolers with water and lemonade. There is also a underwater videographer that swims with everyone. You can buy a VHS or DVD of the trip. We did the tour from 9 to noon (which is 10 to 1 ship time since G.C. does not observe daylight savings time). I'm not sure what time they dropped us off at the pier but we were able to shop for a few minutes. The last tender leaves at 1:15 but the line was really long, so we just walked around a few more minutes. I would definitely recommend the tour with Soto's; for $24.00 per person it is a much better deal than the ship's excursion.
We were supposed to dock at Puerta Maya, but since there were extra ships in port b/c of Eastern itineraries being changed to Western we docked at Punta Lagosta (sp?). This was a much nicer dock with a two story strip mall of shops. There was also Carlos and Charlies and Senor Frogs. We took a cab to Chankanaab Park. There is a $12 charge for admission and $8 to rent snorkel equipment. There is a beach area but you don't just walk into the water, it is like a lagoon with steps that you go down to get in the water. The snorkeling was pretty good. At one point, my sister and I were just floating in the water and there were hundreds of fish swimming around us. We explored the gardens some and looked at the Mayan ruin replicas. We decided to take another cab to go a little further down the island to Paradise Beach.
I had visited Paradise Beach back in June and knew there food was excellent. So we had lunch there and then relaxed on the beach for the rest of the afternoon. We took a cab back to the pier (I tell you I don't have much experience with riding in cabs, but the cab drivers in Cozumel drive like maniacs...they wait until the last possible minute to break). We then shopped for a while. We got back on the ship, took showers, ate in the Lido deck and then went back out to shop some more. Unfortunately it came up a big downpour so we got soaked getting back to the ship.
We were delayed until about midnight in leaving Cozumel. We found out Friday it was b/c we were taking on more water. Friday we started sailing toward Tampa. It really seemed like we were going to be able to get back Sat. morning and get out of Florida, b/c Frances was so slow moving. But Friday, during dinner an announcement was made that the port of Tampa was closed until further notice. I knew then it would be several days before we could get back. Everyone spent lots on internet to communicate with family. There was a $3.95 activation charge and then $16.50 for 30 mins. or $24.00 for 60 mins. Carnival did allow us to use the phone Sunday from 10 to 5 complimentary, but the phone system was jammed.
I tried to dial out about a hundred times and get never get a line. I did have to make a few phone calls for $6.99 a minute. Carnival did a pretty good job of communicating with us via intercom announcements and leaving us letters under our door. Most of the time, there was nothing they could really tell us b/c we simply had to wait for the US Coast Guard to reopen the port of Tampa. They discontinued laundry service to conserve water. Activities were added to keep us busy. An extra three nights is a substantial delay, but overall everyone kept calm and just tried to enjoy the extra days at sea. The Captain kept us a safe distance from the storm but Sunday and Monday the seas were a lot rougher. Nevertheless the weather was beautiful and I enjoyed the extra days out by the pool.
We finally ported back in Tampa on 11:00 Tuesday morning. It took a while for the ship to clear customs and then the self assist people were called to line up. We were not sure what we were doing so we decided to keep our luggage and self assist debark. We ended up standing in line in the one of the Empress deck halls for over an hour. This was the worst part of the trip. It was hot and everyone was packed in and just ready to get off the ship. By the time we finally got off the ship and went through customs it was 2:30. We were not able to get a flight until Wed. morning so we stayed in a Days Inn and relaxed the rest of the evening. USAir was great to work with during the whole ordeal. They allowed my dad to call and change our flight twice and then I called once we were back in Tampa to get the earliest flight out at 5:30 Wed. morning. By noon I was back home and glad to be done with our ten day adventure thanks to Hurricane France.
Overall, it was a great trip. It would have been a lot nicer if it had went as planned...I had to take two extra days off from work. I told my mom no more cruising for her birthday...that's it for me cruising in Aug/Sept. b/c of hurricanes. This was my fourth cruise in a year and a half and I plan to take a little time off from cruising. But I would definitely recommend this ship and the itinerary.