While looking for something special to celebrate my husband's birthday, I noticed in an email from Carnival, a terrific deal on the Carnival Sensation departing right on his birthday, March 1. It was a 3-night cruise to the Bahamas (Nassau) which was just perfect for us since it departed from Port Canaveral, FL less than 10 minutes from our home. Best of all, it cost about what we would have spent visiting to a theme park for one day. Although the Sensation is an older, smaller ship in the Carnival fleet and we prefer the larger ships, we both had a wonderful cruise and birthday celebration. We had just reached V.I.P. status having booked 10 Carnival cruises so we received a few perks during the cruise to make it extra special for us - Chocolate Covered Strawberries, well-made Carnival Logo Shoulder Bags and cute logo pins for each of us.
First, here are some interesting facts about the ship. Carnival Sensation, built in Helsinki, Finland, entered service in 1993. The ship cost Carnival $300,000,00 to build. It carries 2,052 passenger at full capacity in 1,026 staterooms with a crew of 920. The officers are Italian. The Sensation has10 decks & is 855 feet long Although it runs 2 shorter-length cruises a week to the Bahamas on 3 or 4-night trips out of Port Canaveral, Florida, I don't think that you will miss too much the bells & whistles of newer larger ships. You still have all the expected amenities: 24-hour Room Service, Casino, WaterWorks Park, Swimming Pool, Jogging Tract, Live Entertainment, Variety Shows, Comedy Club, Nightclubs, Karaoke, Library, Coffee Bar, Internet Cafe, Spa, Art Shows/Auctions, Camp Carnival, Video Arcade, Min Golf, Fitness Center, Hair Salon, Adults-Only Serenity Retreat and, of course, Bingo plus much more, too numerous to mention.
Our embarkation went smoothly as there were no long lines that larger ships have. I figured that it would be impossible to find the one person listed on a cruise website that I frequent who was also going on this cruise. I had only his photo on the site to identify him & before we even boarded the ship, we saw him. We chatted a bit & introduced ourselves and for the rest of the afternoon we kept running into each other. Hi ViperUFC (Steve.)
Within less than a half hour from when we left home, we were up on the Lido Deck for lunch. My husband decided on the popular Mongolian Rotisserie (outside on the deck) where the line is always long but he didn't mind the wait. He picked up lunch there again the next day. There, chopsticks are optional but fun to use. You choose your noodles & veggies, the chefs add your meat or seafood choices and whatever sauce you wish & voila your meal is quickly stir fried as you watch. I chose to try the buffet in the Seaview Bistro. Every day the buffet has a different theme - Italian, American, Caribbean. I was pleased to see trays and tall drinking glasses there. I sampled several items including: Focaccia, Pasta Salad, a delicious Eggplant entree & Chicken, then hit the fresh Fruit/Salad Bar. The Dessert Bars always look tempting but I tried my best to avoid them (not always successful,) just getting a frozen yogurt cone instead. One afternoon, I tried the deli counter for a tasty Reuben Sandwich. Tables are constantly being cleared & the area kept clean. With over 2,000 passengers using it, it is a daunting task for the crew. On Embarkation day, we couldn't find an available table outside on the deck, so we ate inside enjoying the A/C and quieter atmosphere. The last day we opted for a leisurely sit-down lunch in the main Fantasy Dining Room - delicious and so serene. I enjoyed some California Rolls, an Avocado Bacon Cheeseburger and CrÃ¨me Caramel. I just wished that the burgers could be served rare as the steaks are.
Our stateroom, R-32 was ready by the time we finished our frozen yogurt cones (1:30 p.m.) Surprisingly, we were able to catch an elevator which was good since our stateroom was quite a few decks below the Lido. We admired all the abstract modern art on the walls by the elevators. Signage at key locations helped us to easily locate the stateroom. The doors even have Braille under the numbers for vision impaired passengers. Our cabin looked lovely with a large window and had more than sufficient storage for our few possessions. The bed was quite comfortable. We quickly unpacked and went off exploring.
Three brides got married on the ship - two on Embarkation day and one in the Port of Nassau. The brides all looked beautiful. We were able to catch glimpses of them as their photographers were snapping photos of them around the ship.
Before sailing, the ship officers held the Safety Briefing at 3:30 p.m.. Passengers were reluctant to leave the pool area but after some firm admonitions, everyone reported to their muster stations. After a brief set of instructions during which silence was enforced, we were led out in an orderly way to the life boats. Afterwards, we joined the Sail Away Party on the Lido deck. The ship photographer even captured us on film and we laughed as we watched ourselves in his video shown on TV in our cabin the next day.
The ship is well-maintained and kept clean all day long. Hand sanitizers are available around the ship, mainly near all the restaurants. I used them regularly but others ignored them. The only problem that I noticed was a glass elevator out-of-order the entire cruise. If the restrooms are kept clean, you can expect to find the rest of the ship clean, I feel and on the Sensation, they were. What impressed me the most about the ship besides its cleanliness was the WaterWorks Park. "Kids" of all ages loved the water slides, water spouts and buckets. The tallest slide is 3 decks high - 214 feet tall & we all enjoyed going down it multiple times. Be prepared to get soaking wet, though - what fun! The kids will spend hours here safely playing in the shallow water under supervision of parents or counselors, of counselors.
Outside of the WaterWorks Park and Camp Carnival, we rarely saw kids loose around the ship. The Youth Program on Carnival is divided by age. Parents should note that "Directors" are all trained in CPR & first aid & passed background checks. After hours babysitting (10 p.m. - 3 a.m.) is available. For the first child, counselors charge $6; $4 for each additional child. Be aware that there is no in-room babysitting service provided. There are 12-16 youth staff onboard depending on sailing date. The kids facilities are cheerful and fun places for the kids to safely play. I was especially impressed with the bright, bold colors & modern look of the Circle C Club for kids 12-14. I would have loved to curl up in one of several inviting window seats. Club O2 is for ages 15-17 & the room looked neat, also. Older kids can take optional shore excursion with their counselors. Camp Carnival is divided into 3 age groups, 2-5, 6-8, 9-11. Since kids nowadays are mainly interested in video games, most of the games are video: Sony Playstation 2 and a few Nintendo Wiis and Microsoft X Box. There are plenty of planned activities to keep the kids occupied and engaged all day long. Kids have their own menu. As they disembarked the ship, many little ones toted the bears that they made at the Teddy Bear Workshop. We watched for a bit as they made them one when we further explored the ship.
This short cruise mostly attracts a younger crowd/families and many of the activities are planned with them in mind from the poolside games & competitions to ones inside the Fantasia Lounge (theater) & around the ship in general. This was the very beginning of Spring Break. We attended a few events to watch & unexpectedly found ourselves enjoying them. There is live music around the pool daily and many other activities as well including Bingo one afternoon. Several times we sat in the Serenity Retreat for some quiet reading.
We opted for Your Time Dining, 5:45-9:30 p.m.- Fantasy Dining Room and it worked perfectly for us. Set dining times are Early Seating, 6 p.m. and Late Seating, 8:15 in the Ecstasy Dining Room. We never waited on any line because we ate between 6-6:30 each night. We did notice a line forming after 7:30 p.m. perhaps because the restaurant was waiting for earlier diners to finish dinner. We appreciated that we did not have to make nightly reservation as on other cruise lines. Food and service were fine throughout the ship, especially noticeable in the dining room. We received excellent attention, information and accommodations to our requests. Each night the wait staff entertained us with song or dance.
We were pleasantly surprised with the menus. The first night we both ordered Lasagna Bolognese - a huge portion and very tasty. This 3-night cruise offered Lobster & Tiger Shrimp on the one Formal Night while other cruise lines don't have Lobster in the main dining rooms even on longer cruises. We also shared a Prime Rib order just to try it - so good and served rare as ordered. The 3rd night, I ordered Penne Mariscos - a marvelous seafood dish that was so big that I could hardly finish it. We loved the Escargot and of course the terrific desserts. Every night you could order the scrumptious Chocolate Melting Cake. Other desserts that I enjoyed were Key Lime Pie, CrÃ¨me Brulee, Baked Alaska and Grand Marnier Souffle. Notice that there are more desserts listed than nights spent on the ship. Okay, so most nights I had more than one dessert including a scoop of ice cream. Why any one would ever still be hungry late at night I don't know since I was full all the time but just in case, you can get soft serve ice cream/frozen yogurt in the Seaview Bistro or pizza at the Pizza Bar opened 24 hours.
My only main complaint about the cruise was the fact that the first night's entertainment - The Welcome Aboard Show was a repeat of the Punchliner Comedy Club performances we had just attended. The second time around the jokes weren't as funny. Before the show started, we are told to stand up, stretch and then massage the shoulders of the person on either side of us. Younger passengers thought this was great fun but older ones did not & didn't participate. Rethink this Carnival. It all seemed a little hokey to me. The audience on this ship didn't need to be loosened up. I did thoroughly enjoy the second night's performance, Curves, with the Carnival Dancers & Singers. They are all so talented and put on a great show. Carnival lists the show as PG-13 because the costumes are a bit racy (blush, blush.) Some of the dancing was well, umm, sexy. For me, they aren't any worse than what I see on the beach every day. The final night's show is equally entertaining, Far From Over. It is the music of the eighties. The Acrobats/street dancers who also perform in that show are amazing & received standing ovations. I enjoyed the special effects during the shows. The live music by Marc Mazo & the Sensation Band was terrific. Every band on all the Carnival ship that I have been on, is uniformly talented. Both the variety shows were new to us happily as we have been on several Carnival ships in the past 12 months. Danny, the cruise director who hails from our area was very approachable, He has been with Carnival for 13 years.
Many other activities go on around the ship. The #1 happening on the ship is the Behind The Fun Shipboard Excursion (fee.) Limited to only 16 guests, the excursion offers a unique opportunity to see up-close what it takes to run the ship. Visit the bridge, Engine Control Room, Main Galley & Crew Quarters. You receive a Behind the Fun baseball cap and a complementary photo and other Carnival branded souvenirs. Recently, friends of mine on an earlier Sensation cruise really enjoyed the experience. Book early. Or, you can take a complementary escorted walk around the ship's public areas on Embarkation Day. There was a special dance event to benefit St Jude's hospital for kids to which I donated. Casino Vault in the Club Vegas Casino is a popular game requiring a steady hand & precision. Attempt to crack the vault to win cash or an iPad. I watched many try, but didn't see anyone do it; others said there were a couple of winners. Try it on other Carnival cruises, too. The Rockin' Under the Stars Deck Party was fun especially the Congo Line Contest. Another event is the fast paced Champagne Art Auction - stay awake at this one. Go for the complementary champagne even if you don't want to purchase art work. You'll receive a piece of art just for attending, a chance to win prizes plus also get out of the sun for a bit. Try your luck at the busy Las Vegas Casino. I have a friend right now on this ship entered in a Texas Hold 'Em Tournament. Or, learn to Moonwalk and do Country Style Dancing. Watch the Game of Love where no questions are barred so leave the kids behind. Karaoke Time is always fun and many of the brave souls who participate are really talented. Although not for me, try NuEmage Body Art - a unique temporary body art - very trendy or tooth whitening treatments (many takers.) If it wasn't so expensive, I'd have loved to attend the Chef's Table where you enjoy a personal evening with the Executive Chef including a private Galley Tour and multi-course dinner. Book early as this has very limited seating. Sometime I'll do this. We both look forward to the complementary Sushi on Carnival ships. Be sure to try it.
Since we have been to Nassau many times, we just did some shopping on Bay Street. The new Marketplace has recently opened & all the white tents by the water's edge have been removed. We browsed through it. If you are interested in Shore Excursions in port, consider the Catamaran Sail & Snorkel ($59.95) - very popular. Or, consider the Highlights of Nassau tour by jeep ($59.95.) Other excursions that passengers enjoyed were the Atlantis Aquaventure Half Day ($135.95,) Atlantis Beach Day including lunch ($109.95) and the Seaworld Explorer tour ($49.95.) There are also Dolphin Encounter tours. We watched several Champagne Catamaran Sunset trips ($49.95) pass our ships as we sat in the Serenity Retreat. We almost wished that we had taken one of those. The sunset was beautiful that evening, perfect for a romantic boat ride. With close to 30 Carnival Shore Excursions, you are sure to find one just right for your family. Or, simply arrange a tour with a local guide yourself after you leave the ship. You need a driver's license to return to the ship so don't leave without yours in your pocket.
Only one unfortunate thing happened on our cruise. As the ship headed for home, we were told that a passenger was having a medical emergency. The ship's doctor determined that it was in the patient's best interest to get him immediately to the nearest hospital - in Freeport - an unscheduled stop. We were fully appraised about the medical evacuation & received timely updates. I didn't hear anyone objecting to the 2-hour delay while we waited for the patient & doctor to be transferred to a smaller ship. The ship doctor accompanied the patient to the shore before turning him over to medical personnel there. The party atmosphere continued onboard although passengers expressed concern about the patient's wellbeing. Carnival handled the whole episode very professionally. I was impressed.
As we pulled into Port Canaveral, we looked out our window onto darken skies and blustery winds whipping the palm trees. Soon heavy rains fell and fog developed. The captain informed us over the loudspeaker at breakfast that due to inclement weather - winds in excess of 50 miles an hour - the ship was changing the Debarkation
Procedure. Luckily, by the time the ship cleared customs, the weather had improved, the fog lifted and the rain ceased. The winds were still strong. Again, I thought that the Ship's Staff kept us all appraised of the changes and the debarkation proceeded smoothly.
If you are looking for a quick get-away, at good value, consider a cruise on the Sensation. Expect a party atmosphere with lots of young people who know how to have a good time sensibly. We made lots of new friends on the ship and so will you. The cruise won't break the bank either. You'll find delicious food, fine service and lots of activities to fill your days. The 3-night cruise from Port Canaveral visits Nassau, Thurs-Sun and the 4-night cruise visits Freeport & Nassau, Sun-Thurs. Find deals as low as $189 pp, better than the Early Saver Deals. You can't beat the value! For more information, visit: http://www.carnival.com/cruise-ships/carnival-sensation.aspx