by Mark E.
April 28, 2002
Since I had gotten SOOO much helpful information from these online cruise reviews, I felt it was only fair that I write a review myself. I know it's long, but hopefully it will help some of you. What started out as a group of possibly up to 13 of us, due to different reasons, ended up being 2. My friend John and I (both 34) sailed on Carnival's Sensation out of Tampa on Sunday, April 28, 2002. This was my fourth cruise (second on Carnival) and John's first cruise.
Being locals, we had my parents drop us off at the Port of Tampa. We arrived at about 10:50am. The porter took our bags and we entered the terminal. There was no wait at all and we were checked-in in just a few minutes. We got our room keys and Sail & Sign card and had a seat to wait for boarding. The check-in line started to get really long at about 11:30. We were happy to be sitting while waiting rather than standing in line! Each person is assigned a boarding group number depending on when you checked in (they went up to 20). They started boarding at 12:30 and we were on the ship at about 12:45.
ON THE SHIP:
We had read the reviews about the gaudy colors, stained and ripped carpeting, and overall how the ship needed an overhaul. I disagree. Yes, there were stains on some of the carpeting, yes, I may never look at the color purple the same way again, but none of that detracted from the overall experience! They wanted it to be "Las Vegas-ish" and they achieved that - showy, overdone, but "fun", (hence "the fun ships").
Our cabin was an outside cabin on the Main deck aft, port side, (M246). It was great having the window as the inside cabins are SO dark. Since it was John's first cruise, I had purchased the Bon Voyage cabin decoration (online at carnival.com- very simple!). The room had a mylar balloon, colorful streamers and balls, 2 Carnival keychains and a Bon Voyage cake. The cabin itself was plenty big, (larger then Royal Caribbean's). The beds were firm and comfortable and the closet & drawer space was more than enough! **HINT #1: Even if you don't purchase the Bon Voyage cabin decoration, go to the formalities shop (near the casino) and buy the white cake!! That cake was FANTASTIC!! A white cake with apple filling covered in a white chocolate fudge icing! WOW! by sitting it on the ice bucket, we were able to make it last for 3 days. Buying just the cake at the formalities shop is $15.00 and worth every penny of it! **HINT #2: Check the mattress. If it's the old brown one with springs, ask the cabin steward for a new blue one. My first night's sleep was uncomfortable until I asked for the new one, then it was great! (We saw tons of old brown stained ones in the dumpster at Tampa, which is how we knew the new from old)!
Grand Cayman - Tues. 8am-1pm (too short)
We took the Island Highlights Tour. A great 2 hour tour of the island which stopped at 7 Mile Beach, Hell, The Turtle Farm and The Tortuga Rum Factory, a VERY good tour! We skipped Stingray City since I had done it before & John isn't really an ocean person. We ended up with a later tour (9:45am) so we did our shopping first.
Cozumel - Wed. 7am-10pm (long enough)
We did the Mermaid Sub-Ocean Explorer Tour - a "submarine" that doesn't really submerge, you simply go below the waterline so that you can see the fish & coral. The tour was 1 1/2 hours and was very cramped! Anyone with claustrophobia (and one sat 2 seats away from me), would NOT like this tour! We didn't really care for it because of how cramped it was. We also seemed to be on the wrong side for everything! The other side saw barracudas & stingrays. We saw what looked like the moon (baron landscape). Even when they turned the sub around to let us see, it was always too late to see what the other side was ooing and ahing about.
After the tour we took a cab downtown to shop ($6US each way for up to 4 people in the cab). Not fun!! Very narrow sidewalks crowded with store employees badgering you to "come in amigo!!". Yes, the women got stares, whistles and rude comments. Ladies, go with guys if possible! We got a few souvenirs and went back to the ship for lunch. At 2:15, with still over 7 hours to go, we took a cab to Chakkanab park, ($10US each way for up to 4 people in the cab and then $10 each to enter the park). Although the botanical gardens were very nice to see, we have the same foliage here in Florida...no big deal). The ocean and lagoon were beautiful, but for non-ocean people, it was just another nice sight. We spent about an hour and took a cab back to the pier.
Back at the pier, we did our shopping. I hate to barter with people, but I tried because that's what everyone says you do. The price was $10. I offered $8. They said $10. I offered $9. They said $10. I said never mind and walked away. They didn't chase after me like they were supposed to. I went to the next store and paid $10. So much for bartering!! Maybe the terrific deals were in the "bazaars" behind the "recommended" stores, but I'd rather pay the full price than find the deals.
New Orleans - Fri. 9am or 12pm-10pm (ended up as 6pm-12am)
Well, unfortunately, all tours were cancelled! We were supposed to arrive at either 9am or 12pm (some confusion about that even among the crew), but it didn't really matter in the end. Due to 2 medical emergencies, we had to divert into US waters so that the US Coast Guard could airlift the passengers off of the back deck by basket. (From what cruise director Mark Lyons said, the two patients had to have surgery, but would survive thanks to the course change). So we were finally allowed off the ship at 6pm! Although bumbed about the tours being cancelled, we couldn't be upset, since lives were at risk. We just walked to Bourbon Street and the area - yes it's dirty, smelly & not for kids, but interesting to see nonetheless.
Not excellent, but very good. There was almost always a good selection on the menus. The portions weren't huge, but certainly enough...and several nights I ordered two! Despite the video's claims about themed dinners, they weren't. If they were, you had to guess, because unlike on other cruise lines, there was no "Italian Night" or "French Night", etc. Some desserts reminded me of diner desserts...they look really good, but lack taste sometimes. The souffle desserts were fantastic, one or two other desserts were bland, the rest were very good. Yes, the 24-Hour pizza was terrific! The hamburgers were great! HINT #3: The best value on that ship (for us non-drinkers) was the Adult Fountain Card!! We averaged 4 a day each and at $2.50 each, we saved A LOT of money!! Even if you just get 2 a day, it's worth it! They DO promote the card, just not much - it's in the Carnival Capers & there are signs around. (The 15% tip is automatically included when you buy the card, not on each drink, so at the end of the cruise we tipped the 2 drink waiters who remembered us all week long - it's only fair!)
I can see where many reviews conflict on this subject. Yes, there was always SOMETHING to do, but no, there wasn't always something worth doing. The last day at sea (despite other reviews) was the most jam-packed day. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner! If each day was like that, I would have been MUCH happier. There were many hours throughout the week where we ended up in the cabin watching a movie or simply wandered the ship because there was nothing that interested us. I wish they had planned just a bit more. The activities throughout the week included: Survivor At Sea, Blackjack & Slots Tournaments, Trivia Game Shows, Bingo, Horseracing (only twice), Newlywed Game, Art Auctions, Virtual Reality games, Pool Games, Scratch Off Lotto (then drawing losing tickets for prizes), Dance Classes, etc.
We both burn way to easily to sit by the pool, but the always crowded pool area seemed to have chairs available here & there. Get there early!
Fantastic! Sensational! I didn't have one complaint! Our cabin steward Antonio kept the cabin spotless & fun (with a new towel animal each day). Out waiter & assistant waiter were friendly and quick (whenever I get a meal now, I'll be hearing Robert saying, "Enjoy your dee-ner"). The Cruise Director, Mark "Skippy" Lyons and the Social Host, (I think that was his title), Jose, were terrific. They worked very well together!! The ONLY complaint I heard was from our table-mates Bonnie & Gloria, who got several "shame on you" lectures from their cabin steward..not what you want on a cruise!
All of us at our table enjoyed both Vegas-style shows. They had several comedians throughout who were hit & miss, a magician...(no comment), and the Passenger Talent Show. So few passengers signed up (3), that one of the comedians was asked to fill in. We missed the Beatlemania show and the R rated shows, but heard that they were very good. The poolside entertainment sounded good when we passed by as well.
Not bad at all! We got into Tampa before sunrise. At 8:45 we were supposed to be in out area (your luggage tag color denotes where you wait). At about 9:50ish, they started allowing people to debark. Two colors at a time were called at about 10 minute intervals. We were in the last group (pink - Lido deck). The line to get off wasn't bad. Once in the luggage warehouse, a porter took our carry-ons and our bags as we found them. We went outside where we met the friend who picked us up. The porter took the bags across the street into the garage and loaded the bags into the trunk! Now that's service! We were in the car about an hour after debarkation started. Not bad!!
- Forget a nightlight. The outlet in the bathroom goes off with the light, so it can't be used in there anyway. Besides, the light from under the cabin door was sufficient to get to the bathroom. - Bring an extension cord, because there is only 1 outlet in the cabin itself.
- Don't buy seasick pills (Bonine) ahead of time. Save the money and ask the cabin steward for them when you get on board. They're free.
- Unless you really want to sit there, skip the shore excursion talk and watch it on tv later in your cabin. Also, if possible, pick out your tours ahead of time (descriptions without prices are available at carnival.com). If you want a copy of the price list, email me).
- Don't skip any chance for the photographers to take your picture! Go to every background. We had so many where we had awful looks on our faces, that by sheer number, we were able to get some really good ones!
- Bring an alarm clock! The automated phone wake-up service didn't always work properly, (too early, too late, not at all).
- Play the free cruise bingo! For $20 you have a chance at a 3, 4, 5 or 7 day cruise on the ship of your choice in a SUITE! I wish I could say that I won, but I didn't. Still worth a shot though!
- The play-time on the nickel machines in the casino lasted so much longer than the quarter machines. I enjoyed them and ended up winning on them overall! The games themselves were more fun I thought.
- Wait until the end of the cruise to buy stuff in the ship's stores. They put a lot of items on sale in the last few days, (same with the massages and salon items).
- If something is wrong on the ship, fill out a "Carnival Cares" card ASAP! It's the only way they can know about a problem. Our TV's color was WAY off (blacks & greens only). I filled out a card & the next day it was fixed (and we received a bottle of champagne as an apology).
- Pay cash whenever possible instead of using that Sail & Sign card...keep that after-cruise cost down as much as you can!
- Email: There is internet access available 24 hrs. a day. The cost is 75¢ per minute. If you don't have email access, they'll set up an address for $9.95. What they don't mention until you're there is that regardless, it costs $3.95 just to start using their computers the first time. Wait for their special "first 5 minutes free" promotion early in the week. Then you're basically cancelling out that $3.95 charge.
- Read over the Carnival Capers the night before. Highlight what you plan to do in advance. Make a plan so that you don't miss out on something you want to do!
- Get what you paid for!! We paid for a cat. 4A cabin with a 2 cat. upgrade. About 2 months later, I checked an online travel site. Suddenly the category we paid for was $300 less! Carnival was running a lower rate promotion. I questioned the travel agent who called Carnival telling them that we got punished for booking early. They gave in and upgraded us to a cat. 6B (which is what, in the end, we actually paid for). Keep on top of the prices!!
In all, I had a very good time...not excellent or sensational, but very good. Maybe 3 1/2 - 4 stars out of 5. Room for improvement, but none of those things ruined the experience at all. We made some great friends and have already had dinner with them after the cruise! We're both looking forward to cruising again soon...we'll just try another cruise line & itinerary next time.
Feel free to email me with any questions you may have!
I compiled a checklist that we used to help us both, much of which came from these reviews. Here's some of the items I might not have thought of before reading them...
_Downy Wrinkle Releaser _Shout Wipes _Alarm Clock _Batteries _Ear plugs _Napsack _Candy / Snacks / Gum _Safety Pins / Sewing Kit _Extension Cord / Power Strip _Phone Calling Card _Crossword Puzzle Book _Card Games _Addresses / Email Addresses _Highlighter Pen _Travel Mug _Travel Iron/Steamer _Ziplock Bags _Hangers!!!! _Rain Poncho _Extra Luggage _Lysol / Air Freshener _Blank Check