May 19, 2002
We went on a one week cruise on board the Carnival Sensation. Check in wasn't too much of a hassle, it took about 2 hours to get on board the ship, half of which was spent in the boarding area. Why so long to board? Because Carnival insists on taking your picture as you board, slowing everything way down. Carnival is constantly taking your picture, usually with people in stupid outfits, such as while you're eating and disembarking at Cozumel (slowing that down as well). Otherwise, the check in process went pretty smoothly.
THE BOAT and ROOM:
The ship itself is in excellent shape, and is very clean. The decor is rather glitzy - by which I mean gawdy - lots of colored lights and cheesy fabrics. Our stateroom was a decent size and had a nice big window. The paint was rather ugly but the room was comfortable and clean. They run fairly recent movies continuously on TV, which are free - this is pretty much it for TV, you may get 1 or 2 more channels.
The food in the main dining room is very good. We ate tons of seafood which was all excellent. The menu is varied, including vegetarian and healthy selections. The food at the buffets, including the midnight buffets, is pretty lousy. It's about what you would expect at a Golden Corral. Some of the food was even leftovers from the midnight buffet. They usually have an item or two they prepare fresh which is listed on a yellow menu which is not easy to find. We had grilled shrimp and scallops one night which was great (this exact item was at the midnight buffet that night...hmmm). The pizzeria was decent, but not great. We ordered off the "gourmet" menu which is made fresh, otherwise it's slices under heat laps. I would highly recommend avoiding the buffets and eat in the main dining areas as much as possible.
It ain't cheap. A Corona cost me $4.31 (including the automatic 15% gratuity). A can of Bud Light was $3.74. They did give us a complimentary bottle of cheap champagne when we arrived. We snuck a bottle of Captain Morgan's and some Box-o-Wine on board without any problem. Coke was $2.88 for a 20 oz bottle. Wine at dinner isn't too bad, we paid $20.70 for a decent Reisling one night.
The shows were very good, though short. The costumes were very elaborate, and the female dancers and 2 singers were very good. I went to enough productions at OU to tell that the male dancers were terrible - we couldn't help but laugh at them. Fortunately they weren't given too much stage time. The cruise director and social hosts were amusing. We saw 3 comedians. 1 was lousy (I recognized 2 of his jokes I heard years ago), 1 was pretty good, and the other was f---ing hilarious! His name is Al Ernst. If you ever get an oppurtunity to see him, don't miss it!
It poured non-stop in Grand Cayman. Disembarkation was complete and utter chaos and took hours. This was the low point of the trip. Carnival couldn't do much worst of a job of getting people off the boat, let alone keep us informed of what was going on. We booked a snorkel tour of Stingray City and a coral reef through a company called Native Way (http://www.nativewaywatersports.com). They greeted us with a sign with my name on it (I felt special), but told us that due to the weather they suggested we not go. We didn't and weren't out any money. We appreciated they're decision to not go, as most of the people who went on Carnival's Stingray City tour said it was a miserable experience (because of the terrible weather - one of our table-mates caught a cold from it) and they were peeved at Carnival for not cancelling (they couldn't get a refund if they didn't go). The ship's tour also cost twice as much as Native Way. The weather was nice in Cozumel. We did the Fiesta Party boat which I would recommend. We easily drank the $39 fee in rum and Dos Equis at the open bar (about $390 worth if you go by Carnival's prices). They take you to Playa Sol beach - which is kinda lame - and back. The fun part is on the boat, which features a live band and amusing drunken party games. The duty free shop on the pier sells liters of booze for 3 for $24. We bought a bottle each of Parrot Bay, Myers, and Skyy (this is 2 over the customs limit, but the customs agent didn't care). We've been to New Orleans several times and just wandered around hitting the usual spots (Pat O'Brien's, Margaritaville, etc). We heard the city tour is pretty good.
This is Carnival's strong point. Just about everyone we dealt with was friendly and helpful. Our waiter spoke broken English, but was very good. I don't think our room steward ever disturbed us, yet the room was cleaned twice a day.
I've never heard so many Southern accents in my life - even in Alabama. The comedians picked on the south continuously (Mississippi makes for such easy material), so maybe this was some special Dixie get together we were unaware of. Most people seemd to be middle class working stiffs - like ourselves. There weren't too many kids on the boat, and most people seemed to range from teens to maybe late 40's.
This went really quick and easy, and took less than an hour, most of which was spent comfortably drinking coffee at a table on deck.
My biggest gripe about Carnival is they practically pick you up by the ankles to get every last penny out of your pocket. From the constant photos, to the expensive booze, to bingo and other games with terrible odds, to advertising they're reccomended (read: we get a nice kickback) shops, they want your money and aren't abashed about going after it. I know they have to make money, but it is very annoying. Overall, I wasn't disappointed, though I wasn't overly thrilled with Carnival either. I would not reccomend them for a special occasion such as a honeymoon or important anniversary (it is anything but romantic), but for a regular vacation they were all right.