Launched in 1993, Carnival Sensation is the third in the line's series of eight 70,367-ton, 2,052-passenger Fantasy-class ships. Sensation's sisters include Ecstasy, Fantasy, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Elation and Paradise. While Sensation and company are getting up there in age, Carnival has pumped big bucks into keeping these now-classic ships relevant.
In January 2009, Sensation spent more than a month, an eternity in dry dock time, under the knife. Big-ticket additions included a 300-foot-long corkscrew waterslide, a children's aqua park, a tropical-themed mid-ship pool area, 98 balconies to cabins and an adults-only retreat space. The line also refreshed cabins, which gained flat-screen TV's, and updated numerous public spaces from the main dining room to the piano bar.
But even with the major refurbishment, the ship can feel dated. Case in points: While the addition of 98 balconies roughly tripled the number of cabins featuring verandahs (from 54 to 152), the ship still offers only a very small proportion of balcony accommodations (some 15 percent). Sensation also lacks a dedicated alternative dining room/supper club. Both are major factors on newer vessels.
Negatives aside, Sensation is still a fantastic value for first-time cruisers and families. The ship features the line's wildly popular Camp Carnival with programs for youngsters between the ages of 2 and 17; a nightly sushi cart that's a major draw; an exceedingly congenial and up-for-anything crew; and the aforementioned sun deck additions (waterslide and adults-only space). Couple those amenities with Sensation's three- and four-night Bahamas cruises from Port Canaveral, and you have a short-and-sweet cruise option perfect for those looking to make a quick getaway.
During dinner hours, the dining rooms (Fantasy and Ecstasy) accommodate all passengers in two seatings (early at 6 p.m., late at 8:15) or on a flexible basis via Carnival's "Your Choice Dining" program. With the flexible option, passengers can have dinner in the main dining room anytime they like between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (times may vary). Dining assignments -- which you select before the cruise -- are made on a first come, first served basis, so if you have your heart set on one or the other, consider booking earlier rather than later.
The Sea View Bar & Grill on Lido Deck has a great traffic flow, and even when crowded, tables seem to miraculously open up. There's a lot of purple up there, including molded purple plastic seats. The decor is Star Wars meets the high school cafeteria, but the food is excellent. The pizzeria is open 24 hours; ice cream and fat-free yogurt are also a round-the-clock thing. A station provides made-to-order eggs and omelets, and various breakfast offerings. Everything at the Sea View is cafeteria style. Lunch can be a full course meal if you like, a good solid salad with crisp greens, pizza or a piping hot deli sandwich.
At dinner, the Lido becomes a grill with some of the dining menu options for casual dining.
For an exclusive dining event for just 12 guests, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners can attend a multicourse dinner, hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley, led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a nontraditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library.
The Patisserie, on Promenade Deck, offers great coffees and teas, milkshakes, and calorie-laden baked goods. It's called "Cafe on the Way," a great name given its central location. Coffee has its price, and the price is on par with your neighborhood coffee house -- the $2.50 to $4 per drink neighborhood. The sushi cart, also located on the Promenade Deck, shows up nightly. Selections vary by night and there is no extra charge for the fish.
Room service is available 24 hours a day. Orders are delivered promptly, and although only a limited menu is offered at lunch and dinner, breakfast offers cereal, a toasted variety of breads, smoked salmon, really hot coffee and nicely toasted bagels.
Die-hard late-night buffet buffs won't be disappointed on Sensation. There's food galore for this group of energetic passengers. Midnight buffets may be becoming a thing of the past on some lines, but many Carnival guests opt for a plate of pasta, some sandwiches, and a slice or two of pizza before calling it a night. A buffet of offerings tempts those still out and about late at night, and a Grand Gala Buffet -- offered each cruise -- is as orgiastic as it sounds.
Not only are Carnival guests a high-energy group, but they also love staying up late. And on Sensation, there are no shortages of spots to do just that.
They party hearty in the piano bar, Touch of Class (the seats at the bar are shaped like oversized hands, thus "touch"), a hot spot that can turn out to be standing room only. People enjoy the sing-alongs where they can take part in the music, but don't have to face the audience alone a la karaoke. Even though younger people make up much of the audience, some of the music appeals to Irving Berlin or George Gershwin fans.
Passengers can dance the night away at Kaleidoscope Disco or rock out in Michelangelo's.
Fantasy-class ships feature a long promenade (Deck 9), running from the atrium to the aft lounge.
On Sensation, the aft lounge is the Plaza Lounge (where karaoke IS offered), but it is the smaller, charming Polo Lounge outside the Plaza Lounge where many gather for a before-dinner drink. An intricate croquet mallet design woven into the carpet in the Polo Lounge gives it a British-clubby feel. The Polo Lounge is also home to two poker tables, run by the Club Vegas Casino. And with the poker craze sweeping the world, this is a very popular spot each evening.
On Promenade Deck, there's a video arcade, an evenings-only sushi bar, the photo gallery and the hot, hot, hot Club Vegas Casino -- a huge drawing card on any Carnival ship.
At the forward end of the promenade sits the Fantasia Lounge, which hosts Vegas-style stage shows. It is a pretty room, but sightlines are poor. Poles obstruct vision all round the two-level room, but if you don't mind getting a stiff neck in order to see a terrific show, you will be entertained!
The ship features bow-to-stern Wi-Fi, but there's an Internet cafe on Deck 7.
Cabin-wise, Carnival keeps it simple. The vast majority of accommodations are insides (upper/lower bed or two-twin setup, both 185 square feet) or outsides (porthole or picture window, both 185 square feet). Carnival Sensation also has a number of standard balcony cabins (185 square feet with 35-square-foot balcony), which were added during the January 2009 refurb. A handful of "extended balcony cabins," also added during the dry-dock, feature 55 square feet of verandah space.
Apart from the bunk-bed-style insides, most cabins have twin beds, which can be combined into an extremely comfortable king-size bed. The Carnival Comfort Bed, a sleep system with delightful pillows and a duvet, makes sleeping aboard the ship a treat. Lighting is good -- each bed has its own light -- and triples and quads nicely accommodate the needs of three or four people traveling together. These cabins go quickly -- especially over school holiday periods -- so book early.
All cabins feature a pair of bathrobes, flat-screen TV and safe. Closet and drawer space is standard and adequate -- especially when casual wear is the order of the day. Standard cabins do not have hair dryers in the cabins, but passengers can ask the room steward for one. Shampoo and body wash can be found in bottles affixed to the shower wall, and a grab-bag of sample size products is provided in each cabin.
Cruisers looking for a little more space should opt for a Junior Suite (220 square feet with 30-square-foot balcony), Grand Suite (330 square feet with 70-square-foot balcony) or Grand Suite with extended balcony (330 square feet with 115-square-foot balcony). Grand Suites feature whirlpol tubs. All suite passengers get VIP check-in.
Sensation has 20 cabins for passengers with disabilities.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The Carnival Spa, forward on Sports Deck, is tastefully done. The space provides a serene backdrop to some delightful services, including a variety of massages and facials. The spa features light wood-toned walls, soothing lighting, men's and women's locker areas and plenty of treatment. The gym, which is adjacent, houses state-of-the-art equipment. A variety of fitness classes (Pilates, yoga, spinning) are offered, some of which carry a $12 fee.
Sensation's one pool, remodeled in January 2009, is located midship. The surrounding deck area features metal palm trees, the "fronds" dotted with LED's; a pair of hot tubs abutting the pool; and a stage. During sea days, this space hosts pool deck Olympics, ice carving demonstrations and plenty of live music (from calypso to classic rock covers). The ship's other area for water-based fun is the aft-situated Carnival WaterWorks, which was also added in early 2009. Waterworks features a four-story tall, 300-foot-long corkscrew waterslide; an 82-foot-long triple-lane waterslide (great for racing); and a spray park, complete with various sculptures spewing water.
The nine-hole mini course is a popular site.
The adults-only Serenity Deck, added during the dry dock, is a teak deck space located on the stern (out of earshot from the more boisterous WaterWorks). The Serenity Deck has two hot tubs and loungers with thick, blue padding. There are both sunny and shady spots, with yellow umbrellas and a thatched-roof overhang providing cover from the blaze.
I saw three generations of families enjoying the ship. Sensation offers something for everyone. Consider chicken fingers for the fussy 3-year-old; a sugar-free diet for grandma, line dancing or rock 'n' roll for the partying-type. These very casual cruises make for a comfortable introduction to cruising. Sensation's homeport of Port Canaveral is a drive-to departure point that passengers from the Southeast can get to in a day's drive. Or, after a visit to the Cape or theme parks in nearby Orlando, families can plan a three- or four-day cruise to round out a nice vacation.
"Camp Carnival" offers activities for children broken down by ages 2 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to 14, and 15 to 17. The dedicated space for the 2 - 11's (Deck 11) has video game consoles, arts and crafts supplies, and various toys. The 2 - 11's are further broken down in three groups, each with its own age-appropriate activity list. Toddlers (2 - 5) might enjoy finger painting. Juniors (6 - 8) can participate in jewelry making. Options for Intermediates (9 - 11) include scavenger hunts and pool parties.
Camp Carnival activities are included in the cruise fare up until 10 p.m. for the 2 - 11's. A babysitting service is available from 10 p.m. - 3 a.m. at a cost of $6 per hour for the first child and $4 per hour for each additional sibling. The occasional "Curfew Extended Parties" for kids are held within Camp Carnival from 10 p.m. - midnight (fees apply).
Circle C is the dedicated space for the "tween" set (12 - 14). A major focus here is on video games and movies, with Nintendo Wii on offer. Other tween activities include dance parties (hosted at one of the ship's dance clubs before the adults take over), sand art making, build your own pizza, group mini-golf, T-shirt decorating and waterslide races. The 12 - 14 set (as well as the older teens) can come and go as they please.
Club O2, situated on Deck 9 (Promenade), is a place for 15- to 17-year-olds to hang out. Teens compete in Guitar Hero tournaments and attend parties with themes like "Glow" and "Mardi Gras."
Next to Club 02 is a small 24-hour video game arcade featuring the typical mix of car racing and first-person shooter games.
Kids ages six months (the youngest allowed on the ship) to two years aren't technically allowed to participate in Camp Carnival activities, but the full contingent of babysitting options are available at the aforementioned babysitting rate.
Sensation is a hit with families. It's size, itinerary and activities make it a natural for a family cruises. It is quite common to see three -- or even four -- generations traveling together to celebrate great aunt Jane's 75th birthday or Jeffrey's 21st!
Sensation is as casual as it gets, but shorts and muscle shirts are still not acceptable dinner wear. One formal night is scheduled per cruise, and a nice shirt with a sport jacket works most often for male passengers, while women tend to dress a bit glitzier. Casual night dress might be a sports shirt and slacks for men, and pants or skirt and blouse for women. Swimsuits are not allowed in the dining room, but are perfectly acceptable -- with a cover-up -- for the Seaview Bar & Grill.
Carnival passengers are participants. Whether it's taking a spinning class, running the track on the sun deck, grabbing the mic at karaoke or playing pool games, these passengers enjoy all the ship offers. They play hard and party harder, and stay up later than passengers do on many other lines. At 1 a.m., you will still find folks throughout the ship.
The piano bar -- Touch of Class -- is a hot spot, and the Club Vegas Casino with its slots, blackjack tables, roulette, craps and poker offerings is another big draw.
Fantasia Lounge offers always-popular Vegas-style shows. Productions are high energy and intense, with great lighting, sound and special effects. Carnival performers know their way around a stage.
In addition to the song-and-dance revues in the Fantasia, a late night comic often entertains adults in the Plaza Lounge, while a pianist entertains around the ship. Classical music is scheduled often in the atrium.
Live music and dance venues are available daily. Check your Carnival Capers newspaper.
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