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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman

Carnival Sensation
Western Caribbean
March 20-25, 2004

By Mike Auger

This was our sixth cruise and our fourth on Carnival (Festivale in‘89, Tropicale in ‘93, and Imagination in ‘96). We have also sailed on the Norwegian Dream in 2000, and the Celebrity Zenith in 2003.

Home Port: We arrived in Tampa on Thursday night at 11:15 pm. Our reservations were at the Howard Johnson’s on Dale Marbry Drive near Raymond James Stadium. The complimentary hotel shuttle runs (to the airport, downtown, and cruise port) until midnight (not 10 pm as stated on Orbitz), so we called upon our arrival and were picked up promptly. The hotel is nothing fancy, but the room was clean, the bed was comfortable, and the location was good. Plenty of restaurants (McDonalds, Wendy‘s, Taco Bell, Longhorn Steakhouse, Chili‘s) and shopping (Wal Mart, Eckerd Drugs, K Mart) within walking distance. (Just a Warning: There were also several Strip Clubs in the neighborhood, if those things bother you). All in all, I think for the price ($56.00/night) it was a good choice for not too fussy cruisers who are just looking for a clean, inexpensive place to stay (with a free shuttle) for a night or two while waiting for the ship.

Embarkation: The easiest we’ve ever had! We signed up at the hotel for the 11:00 am shuttle (you should reserve the shuttle when you check-in) and arrived at the port by 11:30 am. We were signed in and processed by 11:45am. We couldn’t board the ship until 12:30 pm, but they had seats in the terminal building. A good time to unwind, meet new people, and feel the anticipation!

Ship: The Sensation is a Fantasy Class Ship, and having been on the sister ship Imagination helped us in finding our way around. The multi-deck Atrium is the center of activity, and using that as a guide will help in locating yourself on the ship. The sculpture in the center of the atrium on Imagination has been replaced by a piano bar on Sensation, and after the initial commotion of check-in day calmed down, it was a popular spot for a quiet drink. The casino was large, and the staff was friendly. We ate in the Fantasy Dining room one of two dining rooms on Sensation. We were in a booth for six, open on both sides. We would have preferred a round table, but the service was fine. The bars and lounges were plentiful and well kept. The shops were well stocked (maybe a bit over-stocked as maneuvering in a crowded shop was sometimes a challenge. The Fantasia Lounge was two-decks high and had plenty of good seats for the shows. (Notes: Don’t arrive five minutes before show time and expect a good seat, also the view from the front row seats on the upper deck is obstructed by a Plexiglas shield - for a six foot person, the railing is right in the center of the stage)

Cabin: We were in cabin R62, our first time in an Upper/Lower cabin. It was NOT tiny! The square footage was the same as other standard Carnival Cabins. Don’t really know why Carnival didn’t put a queen bed in there, there was enough room. It had it’s advantages and disadvantages. The plusses were: Layout - The “L” shaped design was good - you didn’t have to close the closet door to go in and out of the cabin. Location - Being in the very center of the ship, on the lowest deck, we felt the least motion of any cabin we’ve ever stayed in! Minuses: Outside of the obvious having to sleep apart, the lack of a window in any inside cabin creates a problem of knowing the time of day. On Norwegian we had a TV channel which showed a bow camera 24 hours a day. Leaving the TV on was like having an electronic porthole, but that doesn’t exist on Sensation (it maybe something for Carnival to think about).

Entertainment: Cruise director Jorge Solano was a hoot all week! The two big production shows: Party Time! and Hey Mambo! were very well produced! The dancers and singers were talented and enthusiastic! The comedy shows featuring Mike Sisco and Peter Fogel were ok, not great. The Magic and Comedy of Stephen Webb was a good show spoiled by bad seats at the extreme side of the Lounge. The bright lights at each side of the stage were right in our eyes, making the magician a silhouette.

Food: Food was well prepared and plentiful! Entrees were broken down into groups (Fish, Chicken, Beef every night) There was a plain grilled steak or chicken breast option every night, in case you don’t like the entrees. Desserts were varied and wonderful! The burgers and hotdogs on the Lido deck were very good. Breakfast Buffet was great each morning with omlettes to order. The sandwich deli bar next to the pizza counter was a favorite of mine! Great Corned Beef! The 24 hour Pizza was a big hit with most, and having the self serve ice cream machine on all the time was downright dangerous to the diet!

Grand Cayman: We went on the Stingray Sandbar Tour ($47.00/pp) and enjoyed it a lot! (Tip: If you can get yourself out of bed, go to the early tour at 7:15am. You’ll have time to shop in the afternoon, and being early, before a lot of other tours show up, there will be more stingrays for you to see). There is plenty of shopping and food available near the Tender Port. (Note: If you are not taking a tour, don’t rush to be the first off the ship on the tender boats. The paid tours get off first, and the shops don’t open until 9:00 or 10:00 am anyway).

Cozumel: Carnival doesn’t dock at the downtown pier, so a cab ride to the “city” costs $ 6 US. We went on our own to the beautiful Chankanaab National Marine Park ($6 US for the Cab, $10 US/pp to enter the park). Saw the dolphins (from a distance - you pay for a closer look or a swim with them), sat on the beach, walked through the park with (mostly re-created) ancient Mayan artifacts, saw lots of iguanas, drank Pina Coladas from a pineapple, and had a quiet relaxing day. The pier where Carnival docks has a large Duty-free shop. (Warning: Set your watch to Ship’s Time - The clocks in town might be an hour different! 73 people, mostly spring breakers at Carlos ‘n Charlie's and Senor Frogs missed the ship!)

All in All: We had a great time on Sensation! We reminded ourselves over and over about how quiet it was on the Celebrity Zenith last year, and how much we enjoyed seeing some activity on the ship after 9:00 pm. Even though Sensation was full of College Spring Breakers, the crowds on board were boisterous, not out of control. There were deck chairs and quiet areas to be found even on sea days. My one complaint is the new Carnival tipping policy. Although our cabin was cleaned and set-up promptly each day, we only saw our cabin steward three times all week, and would never have known she was our steward except we stopped her and asked. Our waiter was good, but just a waiter. We remembered fondly the jokes and tricks played by waiters and busboys on other cruises, and found ourselves missing them. The spark of interpersonal communication between staff and guest was pretty much gone, and I attribute that to removal of the “envelope tipping” system between service and passenger. I know you can adjust the amount on your Sail and Sign account, but unless the service one receives is really bad, I can’t see a lot of people doing that. The incentive for the staff to “give that little bit extra” is non-existent.

I guess that’s just another part of Cruising in the 2000’s.

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Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line