February 4, 2001
This was the fourth cruise (second on Carnival) for my husband and I and the second cruise for our kids (daughter 12/son 9). We sailed Carnival for the first time with the kids last year because of the bargain rates and the reputation of the kids program. We didn't have high expectations and that cruise exceeded our expectations in every way. We knew we would choose Carnival for our family again, and soon! We chose the Sensation because of it's great itinerary and we liked the size and layout of the ship which was identical to the Fantasy we sailed on last January. The ship's public areas, decorated in wild color schemes like most of their ships, had newer carpeting and looked well maintained and clean. It never seemed crowded even though the ship was full. The weather was really nice all week (low 70's to 80). It was the smoothest sailing we've ever experienced. CD was Larry Garlutzo from England who was a riot. He'll be going on vacation in a few weeks and then he will join the Spirit as assistant CD to Shawn Bussey. We didn't go to Grand Cayman because of a medical emergency on board. The ship had to turn back to Key West on Monday where the individual could be airlifted by the Coast Guard and taken to a hospital. Instead, we arrived in Cozumel on Tuesday about 4pm and stayed till Wednesday 5:30pm. This was fine with us since we had been to Grand Cayman before. This cruise was our best vacation ever. Excellent service, very good food, so many activities, Cozumel was paradise and New Orleans was sooo much fun. We all hated to get off that ship! We feel this vacation was such a bargain for a family of four. Don't know what could top this vacation (except maybe doing it all over again, LOL). Just can't say enough about it, as you'll see...
Embarking: Flew into Tampa on Saturday morning to stay overnight with in-laws who live 40 minutes south of Tampa. Coming from Philadelphia, we didn't want to take any chances that a snowstorm could delay us. In-laws drove us to the pier on Sunday and we arrived at 12:15, weather cold and drizzling. Valet drop off, porters took bags right away, tip $1 per bag. Embarking was very organized and went quickly even though lines were long. We picked up our sail and sign cards and keys, had our first of many pictures taken and were in our cabin by 1:00. Luggage was delivered to our cabin by 4:00 which was impressive.
Carrying Wine/Champagne on board: Had 3 bottles of wine and 1 bottle of champagne in our carryon -went through xray, no questions, no problem at all. Husband had a bottle of scotch (poured into a plastic club soda bottle and wrapped in bubble wrap) in our checked luggage and it made the trip from Philly with no leaks:). DON'T forget the corkscrew! We don't find the drink/wine prices on the ship outrageous at all, in fact they are the same we would pay at any restaurant here at home, we just like to have wine in our cabin for convenience sake.
Cabin: We had a quad cabin (2 singles plus 2 uppers) on Empress Deck aft, E-195. We've been in a quad with the kids before and the space was sufficient for us. Lots of storage space, even for a family of four. The carpeting looked new, the bedspreads, blankets and shower curtain need replacing. Our cabin window, which was a great size, really needed a cleaning. Windows in the public areas seemed to be clean though. Having sailed w/Carnival before, we knew what to expect and we were not disappointed. We really like the Empress deck because you are only one or two decks below most places you want to go. Also, the kids playrooms are right down the hall and up the steps, impossible for them to get lost. We only saw our steward twice (moved the beds together ourselves) but everything was always in order, we always had enough towels, and he kept our two ice buckets full. He did leave towel animals and chocolates each night and the kids were thrilled about that. The water pressure in the shower (big enough for two) was great, nice and hot too. There were two terrycloth robes and an amenity basket in the bathroom. The A/C worked well and was adjustable. DO bring extra hangers, a multi-plug outlet and room deodorizer. I've heard complaints about a "sewage" smell coming from some of the bathrooms but we had no odor at all.
Seaview Grill: Only had lunch here the first day (just OK) kids had breakfast here one morning. They do have self serve soft ice cream here which my son really enjoyed. IMO the food here is buffet/cafeteria like, usually with long lines, and the food just doesn't look too appetizing to us. We try to eat all our meals in the dining room. The pizza place is in the rear corner of the Seaview and the pizza and Ceasar salads are great. You can carry them back to your cabin if you like.
Dining room: We had asked for early seating back in July when we made our reservations but we were given late seating (8pm) in the Ecstasy dining room. We were told to go to the Card Room to have it changed. There were quite a few people there so it was a 20 minute wait. Everyone was told they would have to go to their assigned dinners the first night and they would receive a card in their cabin by 2:00 Monday stating your new dinner time/dining room/table number. We received our notice and were changed to early seating (5:45pm) Ecstasy dining room. The dining times for the Fantasy dining room were 6:30 and 8:45. I assume they assign you to the Ecstasy if you're cabin is aft and the Fantasy if cabin is forward. We normally prefer late seating, but with the kids along, early seating is a must. Our waiter and assistant waiter were wonderful. They anticipated our every need and were especially nice to the kids and accommodated their every request happily. We were at a booth for 6 with a nice window view but the other two people never used the dining room so we ended up having a roomy table for 4. Overall, the food at breakfast, lunch and dinner was great and presented beautifully. IMO, at dinner, the seafood was always great, the beef tasted wonderful but was a bit tough, pork and veal were wonderful, chicken, depending on the dish, could be a little dry. No complaints at all. We ordered 2 appetizers a couple of nights and 2 entrees a couple of nights. I think Carnival does an excellent job considering they are serving 2000 people. We noticed the bar waitress service at dinner was much better than on the Fantasy. She always checked if you wanted a drink as soon as you sat down and she always came back to check for refills. We noticed our waiter would also refill our wine when they noticed our glass was almost empty, which the waiters didn't do on the Fantasy. DO remember to ask your waiter for expresso/cappuccino, as they don't offer it unless you ask. Once we did, they would bring it every night. Met some nice people who sat near us. The Maitre D' had a great sense of humor and constantly circulated to check on people to make sure everyone was happy. Both formal nights (Monday and Thursday) were very nice. Did see some tuxes this time. Most women in cocktail dresses, men in suits or sports coat. The cocktail parties before were nice too.
Room service: As always, the service is excellent. The longest we waited was 10 minutes. Amazing. Great sandwiches. The kids loved the bagels, P&J sandwiches, chocolate milk and cookies. They REALLY loved room service. Our bill (even though it's free) at the end of the week showed they ordered room service 21 times! LOL. Tip $1-$2 per person.
Pool: The lounge chairs right around the pool were pretty tough to come by. I didn't notice many lounge chairs being saved, just occupied. There were always other places to sit though and we liked to sit on the bench right around the pool. The Jacuzzi's were very warm but not hot which was fine with me -- they felt so good! Especially with the "drink of the day" LOL. The pool towels are around the pool, the bar waiters were always at your service. The music was nice and it was just a fun, no worries, vacation atmosphere. We all played a lot of ping pong and shuffleboard on deck and of course the water slide was awesome. The slide is open a few hours a day, different times depending on whether it is a sea day or port day. Took my walks up on the track on the sports deck -- it was glorious. Felt so good and got rid of a little guilt from all the food I consumed LOL. Pools are open 8am till dusk, Jacuzzi's 8am till 12am.
Entertainment: There's so much to do! We're not much for shows so I can't comment much here except that people who did attend the shows seemed to really enjoy them. We did see the adult and kids talent show and some of the Mambo show. All show times are 8:45 and 10:45. Also, there is an occasional midnight comedy show. There is a deck party at 10pm the night you're in Cozumel and a MardiGras parade and party at midnight the night you're in New Orleans. They video each days events and they are on your TV (channel 6) in your cabin the next day. They sell the daily video's for $35 or you can buy a condensed version of the whole week for the same price. We had a blast at the casino and met so many nice people. Had a great time at the disco and Michaelangelos. Played bingo -- didn't want to miss the bingo for the free cruise LOL. No, sadly, we didn't win the cruise. DO remember when you go to bingo if it says 10am bingo doesn't actually start until at least a half hour later. You sit while they sell bingo cards and serve drinks. We received an invitation in our cabin for the "repeat" cruiser party which was one hour with open bar/butlered drinks and hors doeuvres. BTW, Joe's Cafe is closed and will reopen as an Internet cafe (75 cents/minute) in a few weeks.
Camp Carnival: Was wonderful as always. The counselors were just so energetic and fun. Both our kids were in the 9-12 age group and they participated in so many activities this time. There were only 110 kids on board this week so there were only a dozen kids at any given activity for their age group which was kind of nice. There were a few boys my sons age and two girls my daughters age that participated in Camp Carnival. The counselors told us there were only 75 kids the week before us and that during the summer, Easter, Xmas, New Years and Thanksgiving there are 800! Wow! We brought home the activity sheet for the week so if you have kids in that age group and have ?s, just email me. The kids won all sorts of prizes and trophies. We really enjoyed the Camp Carnival Talent Show (daughter wrote a poem about the cruise, son hula-hooped around his neck to rap music LOL). Our son won the ice cream eating contest (no surprise there :)) They also saw the Mambo show and the adult Talent Show with camp carnival. Their favorite events were the kids talent show, the farewell party, karioki, Nintendo 64 time, ping pong tournament, and the stay-up-all-night sleepover. The last night of the cruise at the farewell fiesta the kids get a memory book with pictures of them in their activities and they exchange addresses and email addresses with their new friends. Our kids were teary eyed when it was time to leave. They had the time of their lives. It was so gratifying for us to see them enjoy themselves so much all week. At the Farewell Fiesta we tipped the 3 counselors who were with our kids most of the time $10 each.
Cozumel: Got off the ship and took a 10 minute taxi ride to Chankanaab Park ($8 one way/4 people). $10 per person admission fee for ages 8 and over. It was so beautiful there. We arrived at 9:15am so there weren't many people and we got a perfect spot on the beach right by the water with a grass umbrella. Plastic lounge chairs are provided (which are shaped a little strange, were comfy but not easy to get out of for some older people). There is an outdoor restaurant with a gorgeous view, a separate kids beach with sand where we had the kids practice their snorkeling for the first time. Snorkel equipment is available on the beach for $5 per person for the day plus $3 if you want a life vest (got them for the kids). We brought alcohol wipes to wipe down the snorkel equipment because I'm anal about that stuff. :) The life vests were really great for the kids but they liked wearing their watershoes because they found the fins too cumbersome. My husband and I really liked the fins for ourselves because you could move around much easier and you didn't tire as easily. We all snorkeled on and off all day and it was just magnificent. The outdoor showers and bathrooms were clean the day we were there. The waiters on the beach serve you drinks and food. The pina colada's in the pineapples were unbelievably good. It was paradise. We saw the gardens, the ruins, the dolphins, the gift shops, the sea lion and parrot show ($10 per person included two great pictures of us with the parrots) and our daughter got to use a lot of spanish that she learned this year at school. It was a wonderful day, we hated to leave, and barely got back to the ship on time. DO remember your underwater camera ($10) from home. They were $25 in Cozumel and on the ship. Our underwater pictures turned out awesome.
New Orleans: Got off ship and walked to the French Quarter/Bourbon Street. What a place! We took a mule and buggy tour ($30 for 4) which was really fun. The mule and buggies are available at Jackson Square. We all enjoyed the many street performers in Jackson Square and all over town. Chris the juggler took my son out of the audience to do some juggling with him and then he pulled my husband out of the audience and juggled knives over his "privates" while he laid on the ground on the "suicide towel," it was hysterical. We visited a lot of famous places, Emeril's place, Jimmy Buffets place, voodoo shops, Preservation Hall, O'Briens, Arnauds. Don't miss the cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe DuMonde -- they're wonderful. Had lunch at Johnny's Po Boys. Husband and son took the train back to the ship and my daughter and I stayed and shopped for beads and masks for the Mardi Gras party (at midnight), then walked back. Walked through Riverwalk Mall but it was just like home. BTW, beads and masks are cheaper on Bourbon street than at the mall.
Tips/Debarkation: They have not implemented tips on your Sail and Sign cards yet so tips are still strictly cash. The "team" waiters haven't started yet so tips are same as before. Cabin Steward and Waiter $24.50/pperson/week and assistant waiter $14/pperson/week. So for a family of 4 we paid $100 to the cabin steward, $100 to waiter, $70 to assist waiter. Also gave them $20 each the first day, it's just something we like to do, makes them happy and we think we get better service. Most of the staff gets off at port to call home so if you have a chance to pick up some phone cards they would love them as tips. Your luggage has to be out in the hall by 1:00am Sunday. Have to be out of your cabin by 9am. Our color was called about 9:45 and we debarked the ship into the terminal to collect our luggage. If you fly USAir they have a baggage check-in right at the terminal which was really convenient for us. Took a cab to the airport ($18/four people/plus tip) and arrived about 10:15 to wait for our flight for Philly. So sad.