Dori Saltzman
Cruise Critic Senior Editor
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Entertainment

Carnival Sensation Entertainment & Activities

Theater

The two-level Fantasia Theater is host to a vast variety of daytime and evening entertainment. During the day you'll find the cruise director's live morning show, port shopping talks, bingo sessions and the occasional big-screen trivia contest. Also during the daytime are kids' shows like Dr. Seuss Story Time and the Towel Animal Theater.

The theater is as widely used at night as it is during the day, and hosts interactive games like Hasbro, the Game Show and the Love & Marriage Show, as well as the line's big-stage Playlist Productions. On our sailing, the latter included a fantastic ode to piano's greatest hits called 88 Keys, with one of the best male singers we've seen on a cruise ship in a long time. The second show is a fun romp through the '70s called Studio VIP. The best part of this show is the cruiser volunteers who get to show off their best dance moves with the professional dancers during one particular act. Shows change nightly, and each show is offered twice, at 8:15 and 10:15 p.m.

Most shows do fill up quickly, so for the best seats you'll want to arrive early. Sight lines are pretty good from most spots in the theater, though the farther you are to the left or right, the less of the show you'll see.

Daily Fun

In keeping with Carnival's "Fun Ship" motto, Carnival Sensation offers many daytime activities from trivia, charades, Scattergories and arts and crafts to spa and art seminars (really just sales pitches couched in a seminar format), poolside fun like the Very Hairy Chest Contest and Carnival's signature line dancing events. In addition to the full lineup of activities (which can be found in your printed Fun Times daily calendar or in the What's Happening section of the Carnival HUB app), passengers can enjoy outdoor pursuits like swimming and mini-golf, a range of bars and live music venues, and the ship's spa and fitness center.

One thing you'll be hard pressed to find is a spot to watch your favorite sports team in action. There is no sports bar on Carnival Sensation. Games on the main broadcast channels like ABC, NBC and CBS can be watched in your cabin. The only other option is ESPN, which can only be viewed on public TVs of which there are just a handful on the ship (one in Joe's Cafe, two in the very back of the Seaview buffet and a few scattered throughout the casino). Major sporting events (World Series, Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, etc.) might be shown in one of the lounges or theaters if the demand is big enough.

At Night

Carnival Sensation is just as busy at night as it is during the day, with multiple venues for live music, plus stand-up comedy, raucous karaoke sessions (we were impressed with how supportive everyone was of each other), big-stage theater productions and the always active Club Vegas casino. There's also at least one deck party each sailing during which the DJ cranks up the tunes and everyone gets to line dancing (think Cupid Shuffle, the Wobble and others).

But the most rocking spot on the entire ship for much of the late evening/early night hours is the promenade bandstand across from the Mirage Bar. On our sailing, the band Barracuda Snakes played here most nights, sometimes joined by some of the Playlist players, doing standard favorites and always getting people up and dancing.

Carnival Sensation Bars & Lounges

Like all Carnival ships, Carnival Sensation has an abundance of bars and lounges, though not all are open during the day. At night, however, all 10 open for business, and each offers a different vibe -- in a single night you can hop from a piano sing-along to karaoke to Latin music and dancing. And whether you want a beer, glass of wine, rum or tequila frozen concoction or specialty cocktail, you won't have to go far to pick your poison.

Atrium Bar (Deck 7, forward): The ship's obligatory atrium bar, this no-name watering hole is the first bar cruisers encounter upon embarking the ship and is located in the middle of all the action revolving around the Guest Services and Shore Excursion desks. It does brisk business, but few people actually stop to hang out here, despite the prevalence of live music throughout the day and into the night. You'll find a standard list of wines, beers and cocktails here.

Touch of Class (Deck 8, forward): Although Sensation has relatively sedate decor for an older Carnival ship, the line's historically over-the-top ornamentation makes an appearance in this sing-along piano bar, which you must enter through a doorway composed of two giant silver hands arched together, fingertips touching. The hand motif appears throughout the space, which is all chrome and silver, with window-side seating enclaves created by the same arched hands, and red tiled walls with dipped-in-paint handprints in black and white. A shiny silver rounded bar encompasses three sides of the piano, with piano key decorations and bar stool seating. The piano player welcomes requests, though on our sailing when he was asked to play Billy Joel's "Piano Man" one too many times, he got a bit grumpy. Touch of Class opens most nights at 9:30. 

Mirage Bar (Deck 9, mid): Located just outside the casino, this is the spot to grab a drink between poker tournaments, have a smoke (it's the only indoor smoking spot on the ship) or sit and listen to live music on the stage located right across the Promenade walkway. It's also got some of the longest opening hours of any bar, serving up drinks from 8 a.m. till late.

Michelangelo (Deck 9, mid): Not as over the top as Touch of Class, the Michelangelo lounge is supposed to evoke an old Roman villa, with white plaster pillars and sculptures in the classical style of the Venus de Milo. (There actually is a small scale reproduction of the Venus inside.) Chairs have blue marbled upholstery and the carpet features a Romanesque design. The space is rarely used during the day except for the occasional retail shopping push (like a diamonds and gemstones seminar) but in the evening and at night might be used for karaoke (when the Plaza Lounge is being used for Punchliner Comedy) or a Latin band that, given the ship's homeport of Miami, barely pulled in anyone interested in Latin music and dancing. We passed by Michelangelo several times each night and we never saw it crowded.

Kaleidoscope Nightclub (Deck 9, mid): A bit more mosaic than kaleidoscopic in decor (think carpets with blue, yellow and white geometric patterns reminiscent of stained glass windows), the action here typically kicks off in the late evening with teen-only dance parties or adult singles meetups. The real party starts at 11 p.m. when it opens as a proper nightclub but it doesn't really start to fill until closer to midnight, with the party generally breaking up between 1 and 2 a.m.

Alchemy Bar (Deck 9, aft): Another Carnival staple added to Sensation during its 2017 dry dock, the specialty cocktail bar Alchemy touts a pharmacy theme and mixologists who can create personalized cocktails just for you depending on your mood. However, the venue doesn't seem to have quite caught on yet with Sensation's cruisers. Located adjacent to the Plaza Lounge (the entrances to the lounge are on either side of Alchemy actually), it features a row of bar seating and then a smaller lounge area with armchairs and couches on either side that are just a bit too far away to feel like part of the lounge. We rarely saw anyone using the lounge portion of the bar, nor was the bar itself ever particularly busy. Still if you're in the mood for a cocktail created just for you, this is the place to get it. Just don't stop by for anything else (even soda) -- Alchemy only serves specific cocktails.

Plaza Lounge (Deck 9, aft): The fairly nondescript lounge is, nevertheless, one of the more popular spots onboard Carnival Sensation once the sun goes down. This small show lounge is used for both raucous karaoke sessions and the Punchliner Comedy Club shows. Punchliner is offered about every other night and usually consists of two alternating comedians, both doing PG- and R-rated sessions. The comedy generally gets started late with the earliest set beginning at 8:45 p.m. On nights when just one (R-rated) comedy set was offered, it was always at 11:45 p.m.

RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 10, mid): One-half of Carnival's popular poolside duo, RedFrog Rum Bar was added during the 2017 dry dock and has been hopping ever since. Whether you want to pick up a bucket of beer or crave a refreshing colada, daiquiri or mojito, be prepared to wait your turn as this is one of Sensation's most popular watering holes, especially when the ship is out at sea.

BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 10, mid): The other half of Carnival's popular poolside duo, BlueIguana Tequila Bar was also added during the dry dock. BlueIguana is where tequila lovers go for their fill of frozen margaritas, tequila-based cocktails, beer buckets and pitchers of hard lemonade.

Seaview Bar (Deck 10, aft): Calling this a bar is being a bit generous as it's really just a counter at the back of the buffet where you can buy sodas, beer and the most basic cocktails. Sure, there are a handful of stools but we don't know why anyone would ever choose to actually sit there longer than it takes to get a drink.

Carnival Sensation Outside Recreation

Pools

Carnival Sensation has one medium-sized pool on the Lido Deck (Deck 10), which on our sailing was usually full of kids splashing around. Off to one side of the pool is the Lido Deck stage, where all the crazy poolside fun is centered -- from beanbag toss competitions to Carnival's signature Groove for St. Jude line dance party and the "we dare you not to laugh" hairy chest contest.

Two hot tubs at each end of the pool are usually packed to overflowing with kids and teens, especially on sea days. At one point, we counted 13 kids in a single hot tub.  

Children must be potty trained to use either the pool or the hot tubs. Swim jackets are available for kids who don't know how to swim.

There are also two hot tubs located in the tiny adults-only Serenity sun deck.

Recreation

Outdoor recreation on Sensation is somewhat limited. On Deck 14, you'll find an unexciting miniature golf course, along with the ship's jogging track (11 laps equals 1 mile). Runners beware, the track is quite beaten up and is uneven in some areas. At the back of the mini-golf course are two foosball tables. You'll also find a Ping-Pong table, shuffleboard court and oversized chess set onboard.

More popular is the ship's Waterworks (Deck 11) with its three water slides, including two side-by-side mini-racers for the smaller kids and the larger spiral Twister slide. (Kids must be 42 inches to ride the Twister.) There's also a splash zone for little kids. All were in constant use on our sunny sea day.

Sun Decks

Sun worshippers will find plenty of places to soak up some rays on Carnival Sensation, from the multitude of chairs on the Lido Deck, to those one deck up looking down on the action below. You'll also find a long line of chairs on deck 12s and 14, also overlooking the open Lido Deck below.

There's a small adults-only Serenity deck on Carnival Sensation. To access it you need to go to the very back of the Lido Deck, out the door on the back side of the buffet and down a flight of outdoor steps. There are maybe 40 loungers here, as well as a handful of chairs in the shade at the back, but they all fill up pretty early and you might be hard pressed to find an open spot in the late morning or early afternoon.

Carnival Sensation Services

Several of Carnival Sensation's most vital services are centered on Deck 7 in the atrium, including the Guest Services and Shore Excursion desks, along with a five-station Internet Cafe. Down the hall from the atrium is the ship's art gallery, where cruisers can purchase a Peter Max or Romero Britto to add to their own art collection. One level up on Deck 8 is the Oak Room Library. It's a much larger and better stocked library than you tend to find on mainstream cruise ships nowadays.

On Deck 9, the Promenade Deck, you'll find the future cruise desk, where you can put a deposit down on your next cruise, as well as the Pixels photo gallery, where you can browse and purchase the pictures the ship's photographers will be taking of you throughout your cruise. Also on Deck 9 are two of the ship's shops including Cherry on Top and Sensation Gifts, which features an array of handbags, jewelry and resort wear. The ship's Fun Shops are located on Deck 8, right in front of the Fantasia Lounge. Here you'll find Carnival-branded clothing and souvenirs, as well as a selection of toiletries, clothing, handbags, designer watches and sunglasses, jewelry and more.

In addition to the Internet Cafe on Deck 7, you'll also find two stations at Joe's Cafe. Carnival offers three internet packages: the social plan for $5 per day provides access to popular social media sites; the value plan ($16 per day) gives all the same access as the Social plan but adds in most email, news, sports, weather and banking sites; the Premium plan ($25 a day) give cruisers access to almost all of the internet including Skype, but excluding streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

There are two DIY launderettes onboard, one on Deck 6 and the other on Deck 7. You'll need quarters to purchase the detergent and to run the washing machine and dryer.

There is a medical center on Deck 0.

Carnival Sensation Spa & Fitness

Spa

Carnival Sensation's small spa is located on Deck 12. It has six treatment rooms and offers a menu of facials, massages, seaweed wraps, teeth whitening and medi-spa dermal filler treatments. Prices are similar to what you'd find in a big city -- a 75-minute aroma stone massage is $195, for instance -- but specials are offered every day. If you purchase three treatments, you'll receive 10 percent off the most expensive one, 20 percent off the second most expensive and 30 percent off the least expensive of the three. Daily specials might include a 50-minute ionithermie slimming treatment for $139 (usually $159) or an embarkation-day-only 75-minute bamboo massage for $159 (usually $195).

Inside the spa, you'll find the ship's salon, offering manicures, pedicures, hair styling and men's shaves. 

Fitness

The ship's fitness center is located within the spa complex on Deck 12. Inside you'll find treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes and free weights. Active cruisers can also take advantage of classes, some free like stretching and others for an extra fee such as group cycling and yoga.

Carnival Sensation For Kids

Families are a top priority for Carnival and the line doesn't drop the ball with Carnival Sensation. From its onboard Seuss at Sea program to the AquaPark with its twister water slide, splash zone and mini-racer slides, there's plenty onboard for kids to enjoy. There's also an onboard kids' club, which is divided into three age groups (with nightly for-fee babysitting), plus tween and teen zones.

Branded Dr. Seuss activities include the for-fee Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast, and the once-per-sailing Seuss-a-Palooza Parade that culminates in an interactive reading of "The Cat in the Hat." Another fun experience, particularly for the little ones, is Carnival's Beary Cuddly Workshop, where kids can customize a teddy bear for a fee. The onboard arcade, located on Deck 7, behind the Pixels photo gallery, is another popular spot for kids, especially tweens.

Kids

Camp Ocean, the onboard kids club for kids ages 2 to 11, is located on Deck 11. The program is divided into three age groups: Penguins (2 to 5 year olds), Stingrays (6 to 8 year olds) and Sharks (9 to 11 year olds). Age-appropriate activities include arts and crafts, games, sports contests, movie parties and more. Youth counselors will change diapers. The daily program also typically includes one chaperoned meal (either lunch or dinner depending on schedule) so that parents can eat a meal alone.

Parents must sign kids, ages 2 through 8, in and out of Camp Ocean, but can give permission to their kids ages 9 to 11 to sign themselves in and out.

Camp Ocean programming runs during the day and into the evening. However, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. every night, the space is used for Carnival's branded "Night Owls" babysitting. It's available for kids ages 6 months to 11 years and costs $6.75 per hour, per child, plus a 15 percent gratuity per child.

Kids under 2 are not permitted in Camp Ocean during activity hours, but are welcomed during off hours, sometimes for a fee. For instance, on port days parents can leave their under-twos at the kids club during set hours and head into town for a few hours. The cost for this option is $6.75 per hour, plus a 15 percent gratuity per child.

Teens

Tweens and teens also get their on spaces on Carnival Sensation. Circle C, located on Deck 8, is for tweens ages 12 to 14. Organized activities include scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, sports competitions, dedicated water slide time, dance parties and movie parties.

For the teens ages 15 to 17, there is the Club O2 hangout on Deck 9. Activities are similar to what's offered in Circle C but tend to be less structured and less frequent. Common options are video gaming, foosball competitions and dance parties, but at Club O2 it's more about hanging out than doing group activities.

Carnival Sensation Ship Stats

  • Crew: 920
  • Launched: 1993
  • Decks: 10
  • Passengers: 2,052
  • Registry: Bahamas
  • CDC Score: 95

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