Carnival Sensation doesn't offer nearly as much choice as other Carnival ships do when it comes to dining, but cruisers do have multiple choices for breakfast and lunch, and two spots for dinner (not including room service). If you need a quick bite to satisfy a hunger pang during dinner hours you can always grab a nibble at the Taste Bar. Between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., your only food options are pizza, ice cream and a sandwich at the deli. Between 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. a small selection of late-night snacks is offered in the buffet.
Pretty much every meal we had in the main dining room was good and we heard the same from other cruisers we spoke with. Buffet dining, particularly at breakfast and dinner, were the ship's weakest link; after one soggy-egg breakfast in the buffet we always headed to the dining room for the better food there. Service in the dining room was usually good, though not always. An order of mimosas, one morning at breakfast, came after the meal had been served and was almost confused for Bloody Marys.
Fantasy and Ecstasy Dining Rooms (Deck 8, forward and aft): Carnival Sensation has two main dining rooms, Fantasy and Ecstasy, which differ primarily by color scheme/design and the fact that Ecstasy is only open for traditional early and late seat dining, while Fantasy is used for sit-down breakfasts and Your Time dinners. The rotating dinner menus are the same in both restaurants each night.
Breakfast in Fantasy, which is offered every day except the sea day on which brunch is served, includes fresh fruit, cereals, yogurts and various jellies, as well as several main options including a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, eggs Benedict, made-to-order omelets, plus pancakes, waffles and French toast. Sides include corned beef hash, sliced ham or bacon, hash browns, pork or chicken sausage and turkey bacon. Breads and baked goods are also offered, as are several juices, along with tea and coffee.
At the sea day brunch you can have either breakfast or lunch (or both), with items that include French toast, pancakes (gluten-free available), eggs Benedict, omelets, steak and eggs, huevos rancheros, bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, tomato soup, Caesar salad, pork chop, mac n' cheese, pasta and grilled salmon.
Dinner in the main dining rooms on Carnival Sensation is in the style called "American Table," Carnival's signature dining program, which -- somewhat controversially -- saw the removal of tablecloths from the tables on all but the formal night (which is then called the "American Feast" night). Things you can expect on American Table nights include a carafe of water on the table, so you can pour your own water as needed, and cute little bread plates with iconic images of cities and states in the U.S., including New York City, Seattle, Texas, New Orleans and Philadelphia.
American Table dinner menus consist of appetizers, a variety of entrees and side dishes, extra-fee steakhouse selections and desserts.
There are typically nine appetizers on the menu, including the every night option of a kale or romaine Caesar salad. Other options might include shrimp cocktail, smoked chicken quesadilla, fried calamari, seared tuna, vegetable spring rolls and a variety of soups such as cream of ripened tomatoes, American navy bean or Maryland corn chowder.
There's also one appetizer every night labeled "Rare Finds," which the menu describes as "Food you always wanted to try, but haven't yet dared." Options can include cured salmon with candied tomato, oysters Rockefeller and escargots.
The American Table dinner menu features six entree choices, always including one featured Indian-style vegetarian dish, plus four always-available "From the Grill" selections: salmon, flat iron steak, chicken breast and pork chop (all with a vegetable and starch side and a choice of four sauces: barbecue, bearnaise, peppercorn and wild mushroom). Entree choices might include grilled swordfish steak, honey-glazed pork loin, vegetable lasagna, seared tilapia, veal Parmesan, beef lasagna and braised short ribs.
Also on the menu is a "Port of Call" lineup of appetizer, one entree and one cocktail, all picked to represent that day's port of call, even including the ship's embarkation port, which on our sailing was Miami. The choices that day included ham croquetas, chicken empanadas and black bean salsa appetizers; fried chicken and tomato BLT; and rumrunner cocktail ($8.95). In Cozumel, the options were a tortilla soup with braised chicken appetizer; steak tacos for the main course; and a traditional margarita ($8.95).
Eight dessert options are offered each night, including Carnival's always available (and always delicious) signature melting chocolate cake, a cheese plate, tropical fruit plate and selection of ice creams. Other options include a nightly pie a la mode choice, plus warm date and fig pudding, Nutella tiramisu, passion fruit flan, coconut lime cake and buttered popcorn pot de creme.
On American Feast night, the white tablecloths come out, the water carafe and bread plates disappear, and the menu gets a touch smaller. There are eight appetizers and seven entrees on offer, plus the four grill options offered every night. On our sailing, appetizers included the always popular shrimp cocktail, broiled sea scallops, baked stuff mushrooms, asparagus cream soup and chilled strawberry bisque, among others. The entree choices included blue crab ravioli, oven-baked Japanese sea bass, grilled jumbo shrimp, roasted duck, tender roasted prime rib, barbecued St. Louis spareribs, and zucchini and eggplant parmigiana. We tried the sea bass and the parmigiana and both were good.
Dessert on American Feast night features creme brulee, malted chocolate hazelnut cake, coffee cream cake and, of course, the chocolate melting cake.
For true steak lovers, the ship's only premium cut options are the Steakhouse Selections also available at dinner -- both at American Table and American Feast. (The ship does not have a Carnival Steakhouse.) For an extra $20, diners can select one of the following: broiled filet mignon, New York strip loin steak, broiled Maine lobster tail and surf & turf.
Complimentary beverages include water, iced tea, coffee and hot tea. Anything else, including soda, wine, beer and cocktails cost extra.
Taste Bar (Deck 9, forward): Tucked away, around the corner from the Pixels gallery, is the tiny Taste Bar, a lemonade-style stand offering small bites of items representing menus (though not necessarily actual menu items) from restaurants found throughout the Carnival fleet. On our sailing, the Taste Bar was only open three times, featuring (on different nights), tastes from BlueIguana Cantina (chicken, avocado and lime tortilla soup; roast pork with green chili salsa and aged cotija cheese), Cucina del Capitano (meatballs; hand-whipped ricotta bruschetta) and Red Frog Pub (fried malanga sweet potatoes; pepper pot).
Seaview Restaurant (Deck 10, aft): Every mainstream cruise ship needs a buffet, and Seaview Restaurant serves that function on Carnival Sensation. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are offered every day, with twin stations on both left and right sides of the venue, and the Pizza Pirate and Carnival Deli options at the back.
Breakfast features typical a.m. fare with cereals, yogurts, fruits, breads and pastries, along with scrambled eggs, breakfast meats, potatoes, deli meats, waffles and pancakes. Outside on the deck are two made-to-order omelet stations -- expect long lines, as these are very popular.
Lunches are themed each day, with menu options ranging from just OK to not bad. Most are fairly bland -- if you want something with a kick, you'll want to head to Guy's Burger Joint or BlueIguana Cantina. On Italian day, the main station might serve baked penne with smoked ham and meat sauce, grilled Sicilian-style basa, broiled chicken breast with broccoli and sage, eggplant caponata and sides that include fresh vegetables, rosemary-scented potatoes and focaccia bread. The Caribbean lunch might feature roast strip loin, Caribbean pepper pot, shrimp and calamari fritters, jerked chicken, fried plantains and rice and kidney beans. Other themed lunches on our four-night cruise were French and American.
On top of the themed station, a central salad bar offers plenty of pre-made salads, as well as enough fixings to create a salad to your liking. Two identical dessert stations are located on each side of the buffet, as well, with a variety of cakes and cookies. In between are two self-serve ice cream stations dishing out soft vanilla and chocolate ice cream 24 hours a day.
Dinner consists of a medley of international options such as chicken Florentine, oven-baked fish fillet in a nicoise sauce, beef and shrimp stir-fry, and baked ziti. On formal night, the options even included a couple of dishes straight off the main dining room's American Feast menu -- roast prime rib and blue crab ravioli. The salad bar in the middle offers premade and make-your-own fixings, as well as deli meats and cheeses.
Self-service beverage machines dispense complimentary juices at breakfast and iced tea at lunch and dinner. You can also get your own coffee, hot tea and water here. For those who want something harder, there's a bar at the back of the buffet, or you can pick up something at one of the Lido Deck bars on your way into the buffet.
Pizza Pirate (Deck 10, aft): Located in a back corner of the Seaview Restaurant and open 24/7, Pizza Pirate is the only place onboard to get a slice of pizza -- or an entire personal-sized pie if you'd like. There are five choices: margherita, mushroom, pepperoni, four cheese and prosciutto. All are cooked on request. Gluten-free is also available on request.
Carnival Deli (Deck 10, aft): Situated next to Pizza Pirate is the Carnival Deli, which is the place to get your favorite deli-style sandwiches anytime between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Cold options include a turkey wrap, tuna, smoked salmon on a bagel, and arugula, pepper and mozzarella on ciabatta bread. Hot selections include pastrami or corned beef on rye, grilled Reuben, roast turkey breast on a country roll, grilled ham and cheese, and an all-beef hot dog. Toppings for the hot dog are chili, sauerkraut and caramelized onions, but you should also feel free to walk forward to Guy's Burger and use the toppings bar there too. And, like any good deli (so the sign says), the Carnival Deli has pickles too.
Guys' Burger Joint (Deck 10, mid): Carnival's most popular eatery by far, Guy's Burgers (the brainchild of celebrity chef Guy Fieri) was added to Carnival Sensation during its 2017 dry dock. Situated just steps from the pool, Guy's Burger exudes the tantalizing aroma of freshly grilled burgers, tempting to any poolside lounger whose time on the Lido Deck spans the lunch hours. Burger-lovers can choose from six calorie-intensive options, like the Chilius Maximus, a beef patty with super melty cheese, an onion ring, donkey sauce and chili; or the Pig Patty, a beef patty paired with a bacon patty, topped with cheese and donkey sauce. Veggie burgers are not advertised but are available upon request (ask for it with cheese if you want, otherwise it'll come plain). All burgers come with Guy's signature seasoned fries. Next door to the grill is Guy's toppings bar with everything from lettuce, tomato and pickles to sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. Hours are generally from noon to 6 p.m.; be prepared for lines from about noon to 2 p.m. though they do move pretty fast.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10, mid): Located across the deck from Guy's is Mexican-themed eatery BlueIguana Cantina, which offers breakfast from 7 to 10:30 a.m. and lunch from noon to 3:30 p.m. For those in the know, BlueIguana's breakfasts are preferred over just about every other breakfast option, with huevos rancheros (fried eggs on tortillas with meat and beans), breakfast burritos and arepas (corn patties with melted cheese inside) on offer. Lunch, which is usually pretty busy, features fish, chicken or beef tacos and shrimp, chicken or beef burritos with your choice of wheat or jalapeno tortillas (or have your taco or burrito served on a platter if you don't want the wrap). Optional ingredients include all the Mexican fare necessities: black and refried beans, guacamole, cilantro lime rice, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, roasted corn, sauteed onions, sour cream, Monterey Jack cheese and pico de gallo. And that's not including the large salsa bar with even more toppings.
Room Service: The free room service menu on Carnival Sensation is limited to a selection of continental breakfast items, plus sandwiches, salads, a vegetable platter and three dessert options. Continental breakfast options include fruits, cereals, breads and baked goods, yogurts and a selection of juices, coffee and tea. Free sandwiches are tuna, roast turkey, ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, BLT, grilled cheese and grilled Reuben. A garden salad and Caesar salad are also always available. There is also a selection of for-fee items available.
Chef's Table; $75: Foodies agree, the Chef's Table experience is the best dining offering on most Carnival ships. It's offered once or twice per cruise (depending on demand) on five-night cruises. An exclusive dining experience for up to 14 passengers, Chef's Table is hosted by the ship's master executive chef in the Oak Room library and includes a multicourse dinner and private tour of the galley.
Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (Deck 8, Ecstasy Dining Room); $5: A part of the Seuss at Sea program onboard most Carnival ships, the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast is a silly, once-per-cruise breakfast for kids (or really anyone who loves Dr. Seuss and wants an excuse to eat unnaturally colored green eggs!). From the whimsical Dr. Seuss-inspired decorations to the funny sounding (and looking) menu items like Truffula tree pancakes, Horton's cereal-crusted French toast, Fox in Socks steak and eggs and, of course, green eggs and ham, the breakfast is a fun time for all, especially when the Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two and Sam-I-Am make the rounds, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
Joe's Cafe (Deck 9, mid); a la carte prices: Cruisers who need more of a caffeine fix than the free coffee in the buffet can provide, can make use of this small cafe located near the casino. Here they can partake of such delicacies as Caribbean Coffee (coffee infused with Tia Maria and Appleton Rum, with a sprinkle of nutmeg) for $4.95, plus several other varieties of specialized espressos, cappuccinos and lattes. Ice coffee, specialty water (like Perrier and San Pellegrino) and spiked coffees are also on the menu, as are milk shakes and a selection of delicious cakes and pastries. Prices run from $1.95 to $5.95.
Room Service; a la carte prices: On top of the complimentary lineup of room service menu items are nine extra-fee items ranging in price from $1.50 for a side of fries ($2 for sweet potato fries) to $6 for spicy fried firecracker shrimp. Most items cost $5, including totally awesome wings, chicken tenders, chicken quesadillas, Philly cheesesteak and pan pizza. An old-fashioned banana split is $4. There is also a free continental breakfast menu and free sandwiches available throughout the day.