by Jason Jobe
January 27, 2002
Let me start by saying the Carnival Sensation is an older ship about ten years old and it shows its age in several places. If you are easily offended by worn or stained carpet then I would look for a newer ship. Such things don't bother me much and most of the problems were on the residential decks while the public areas were in very good condition. Also, the Sensation decor is a little over the top. There's a lot of Vegas (and I mean 70's Vegas not Bellagio Vegas) in the design. It's not horrible but if you are easily offended by rather garish decorating I'd also look into a newer ship. I've recently sailed on the Carnival Conquest and it was remarkably different.
Ok, my room was a 1A. That means it's the lowest on the ship. Inside and small with an upper and lower bunk. However, I found it suited me very well. The bathroom was considerably more spacious than I would have imagined with a shower big enough for four if you happen to shower with four people at a time. There was a large closet for hanging clothes and a separate closet with drawers and a shelf. There was space at the end of these for storing luggage. There was a writing desk with chair that had storage drawers as well. The colors were mid range tones, orange/red brown. The room included a television with a few channels. The good thing about an interior room is it's dark. Pitch dark. I like that as I have trouble sleeping with light nearby and often have to cover my eyes. Others are not as happy with the arrangement. Some people have mentioned sleeping with the bathroom light one. If you greatly dislike being in a totally dark space but monetary concerns keep you from booking an outside window you may want to try leaving the light on or perhaps just bringing a small night light from home. My room was also on the lowest deck and I highly recommend just going with the lowest deck if you have an inside room. There is no reason to pay more money just to have a slightly shorter elevator ride.
The food was very good on the Sensation. The casual dining area was buffet. The quality was slightly better than I would normally expect but it's still buffet. As well there are a 24hrs pizza place and room service. The pizza is pretty good and usually quick as they are constantly having to bake it and serve it. There's a hamburger grill by the pool with fries and hot dogs as well. Great place for lunch.
The "formal" dining room food was consistently well done. I'd consider it on par with a four star restaurant. The decor is the same as the rest of the ship and that means it's bright and it all the brighter when they flash the lights on and off for the nightly waiter entertainment. Ok, it is amusing to watch them dance and it is all part of the fun but I have two small complaints. The light flashing is a bit much and the sound system was not very good. I really urge Carnival to look into the sound system. It really ruined it. The staff was extremely friendly however.
The entertainments were very good. There were the standard pools and hot tubs. There was a cork screw slide that entertained more than a few of the adult passengers. The casino was well appointed and there are numerous bars and a dance club. Be sure and enter the Touch of Class bar just for the feeling of stunned amazement. You have never seen anything like. I doubt you'll be able to stomach it long enough to stay for a drink but at least see it! There's a great Internet cafe on this ship. It's set up on tiers and looks out over the ocean. Really very nice to sit and surf while watching the seas go by. The shopping on this ship is a little limited and feels very cramped. There is the standard ship gift shop and a sort of duty free shop. Of course there will be tables with "watch specials" and "gold by the inch". The shows on this ship were very well done. The team they've got working on stage is fantastic. The female singer should be on Broadway! The comedians were also great-very funny (at least their adult rated shows were). There's also a "card room" and Library. The Library is comfortable enough for sitting in to read if you want to get away from your room for awhile but then there are places all over the ship for that. There were also scheduled napkin folding classes and towel animal classes and I think cake decorating or food art type of class. I never really felt bored and always had something to do.
This cruise left from Tampa with stops in Grand Cayman, Cozumel and New Orleans.
Grand Cayman is a beautiful port. It's very clean and the locals are friendly and not pushy. The water is clear and warm and the beaches are some of the best you'll find anywhere. I took the Stingray Tour at this port and was thrilled. There's truly nothing like it. The Stingrays are gentle and tame. The tour I took provided raw squid for feeding them. They also seem to like being touched and picked up. In fact they will brush against you numerous times much like a cat. It was interesting to see sea creatures with so little fear. Shopping in Grand Cayman is on the upper side and therefore a little expensive. Be careful as well for prices listed in Grand Cayman Dollars. That's usually equivalent to twice as much in US dollars. We were only there until 2 pm which is not enough time.
Cozumel looked quite nice from the ship but I saw little of it on this cruise. I took the Tulem Tour that is located on the mainland. The tour lasted around 7 hours leaving little time afterward for sight seeing or shopping. However, that was not a problem as the tour was wonderful. Tulem is a magnificant sight and the tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about the people and the region. Also there is a large shopping and dining plaza directly in front of the pier, including a large duty free mall. I spoke to other passengers from the ship in the mall and they were of the opinion that the prices there were better than in the market in town and there was no haggling involved. For someone like myself that was a big plus as I have little experience at trying to drive the price down. The Tulem tour starts with a ferry ride to the mainland. Take some seasickness remedy with you if your subseptible to such things. The ride is pretty rough and several people were sick on the way over and back. Once there you board a bus for another ride through the jungle this time. The buses were excellent motor coaches in great condition and with air conditioning. I've heard horror stories from friends about being loaded on buses left over from the sixties riding on their last wheels through the sweltering jungle with windows they couldn't even roll down. The ride was about an hour to an hour and a half with a stop midway to "shop" and use the restroom. Once there be prepared to walk maybe another fifteen minutes out to the site. As I stated the site itself is wonderful and well worth the trip. If the day is sunny and warm consider wearing swim trunks or shorts as there is a nice beach there for a quick cooling off if you like. Also at the parking plaza for the buses there is a Subway sandwich shop. You may want to consider allowing time to stop there. There is no other opportunity for eating on the tour. Drinks are served during the ride back but nothing else. Trying the take food from the ship with you is discouraged. At least as far as fresh foods were concerned. Security at the gangway from the ship took some fruits and such from a young lady as she was trying to leave the ship. I imagine this is a Mexican policy much like the one we have here in the US about bringing foreign produce in and not so much a Carnival rule. If you feel you have the time the launch back from the tour will drop you off in the main city (about 3 to 5 miles from the ship) if you like but you will have to make you way back to the ship from there on your own. I didn't feel I had the time so I didn't elect that stopping point. I did buy a few things in the duty free mall next to the ship however.
New Orleans was quite cold and rainy, as I believe it often is during that time of year. I was completely unprepared as Oklahoma where I'm from was in the high sixties when I left and of course Tampa and the Caribbean were very warm. Luckily the ship docks at what is essentially a downtown shopping mall and you have to pass through the mall to exit the ship. By the grace of god there was a Gap there and I could get a stylish reasonably priced coat for walking around the city. I did not take a tour at this point as none of them sounded all that interesting. Plus I really just wanted to walk around town and get a feel for the place. The ship provided a small map of downtown, which served quite well. I did the normal stuff in town. I ate at the Gumbo Shop which was great and not as much of a wait as you might think. I visited the French Market and trinket shopped. There are lots and lots and lots of bead necklaces here but also some antique things and jewelry and such sprinkled through out. The prices were quite reasonable for souvenirs. I highly recommend just walking around the French Quarter. The buildings are stunning- be sure and see the Corn Stalk Fence house. I came across it by accident but it is often listed on maps. Also, visit the Aquarium and the Imax if they're showing a 3-D film. The aquarium is truly amazing and one of the best I've seen. It's about a 5 minute walk from the boat and the Imax is right next door. 3-D Imax is not to be missed if you have not yet seen it. The aquarium is state of the art. You'll see more fish and sea life than out in the Gulf! Also several oil companies have an exhibit where they try to convince you how beneficial to the sea life it is to drill for oil in the gulf. I found it a little funny in its earnestness. If you feel like more gambling after being on the ship there's a Harrah's right across the street from the pier as well. From a tourist stand point downtown New Orleans is very well laid out.
Embarkation and debarkation were easy. A bit of a wait in both cases but not longer than waiting in line at an amusement park. Customs and luggage pickup were a breeze. I wish it were as easy at the airport. All in all this was a great vacation! Despite the ship's decor and age I really enjoyed the craft. It ran smooth and the staff was exemplary. All of the public facilities were in perfect working order. I found the Carnival experience to live up to its "fun" reputation. This will not probably be the cheapest vacation you've ever taken. There are several charges you'll encounter such as mixed drinks, cokes, bingo cards, tours ect. but those are all costs you can control if need be. The value was still quite good even considering those. You'll truly feel relaxed when it's over as there is so little to be concerned about during the trip. I think as much as can be expected the staff and Carnival Corporation try to anticipate needs and fulfill them. If you have any additional questions or would like other information please feel free to email me.