I recently returned from the December 16 seven-day Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Sensation. Before my review, I have to mention that the message boards are invaluable tools when planning a cruise. Thanks to everyone who posts information regarding cruises. The review will be pretty detailed, but feel free to email me if you have additional questions.
by way of background, I'm 26; I've cruised six times, all with Carnival, and this was my second solo cruise.
I left from Pittsburgh on Sunday AM. Booked airfare on my own with US Airways in July for $180 round-trip. Both flights were non-stop and direct. The flight down was on time, with only about 50 or so passengers. The flight landed in Tampa around 10:00. I proceeded to the ground transportation area and called The Limo. It is actually a shuttle bus. They picked me up within 30 minutes and for $11 I was at the pier by 11am.
In order to enter the cruise terminal, all passengers must present a valid photo ID. The terminal was bright and modern. I then proceeded upstairs to check-in and set up the sail and sign account. Embarkationwas very organized and went well. It seemed Carnival had around 20 check-in terminals and they had representatives ensuring that all documentation were completed prior to check-in. I waited about 45 minutes to get registered, picked up my Sail & Sign card and cabin key (remember that the Sensation is an older ship, so your sail and sign card won't open your cabin door - you need a separate key). At this time I was assigned boarding group 3 and then I waited until boarding began - around 12:25. Basically, you board in groups of 150 people when they call you group number. When they called three, I took a quick picture for the A pass security system as well as one for the photo staff and boarded the Sensation around 12:45pm.
The Sensation uses the A Pass security system. Basically, a computer stores each passenger's photo (taken at the start of the cruise) in a computer. Upon entering and exiting the ship, the guest inserts the Sail and Sign card into the computer and gains entry/exit. This system eliminates the need to present a photo ID every time one wants to leave the ship and re-renter. In my opinion, embarkation was well-organized and efficient. The terminal is comfortable and modern with restroom facilities and snack machines, if needed.
I arrived in the inside cabin M6. It was located in the very front of the ship on Main deck. I had initially booked a 1A guarantee, but had been "upgraded" two levels to a 4B. Overall, the cabin worked out OK. I think it was too close to some of the crew quarters as I could hear people yelling, screaming, and climbing the stairwells as late as 1:30 in the morning. It didn't bother me too much as I was pretty tired when retiring for the evening. Also, you could feel more motion in this cabin, but I'm not prone to seasickness and enjoyed the ship's movement.
After unpacking, I went to the Seaview Bar and Grill for the embarkation lunch. In fact, I ate every breakfast and lunch in the Seaview. The food is buffet style and is decent. Breakfast is the same every day, but they have everything from oatmeal to eggs to waffles to cereal to bagels, pastries, and fresh danish. Definitely try the made to order omelettes (they have egg-beaters on request for the health conscious.) For lunch, there is a salad bar with loads of veggies and fresh fruits, grille w/ hamburgers, hot dogs and, fries, a pizzeria that is open 24 hours a day, a dessert station, and a specialty station where the selection changes daily (tacos, chicken/salmon Caesar salad, crepes, etc.) The pizzeria is located in the back corner of the Seaview. They never seemed to have pizza ready, but in 5 minutes you could have a fresh one made. I don't think it was open 24 hours (during breakfast hours, specifically), but I didn't want pizza at 8am anyway.
The weather in Tampa was hot and sunny, but the pools didn't open until 3:30 or so. Since the lifeboat drill was at 4, I passed on the pool. The lifeboat drill was at 4:00 and was uneventful. On all Fantasy class ships, your muster station is not the same station as your lifeboat embarkation station so you usually meet at the muster station and then proceed to the embarkation station which adds extra time to the drill. However, on this cruise, we only reported to the muster station and within 20 minutes or so, the drill was completed. Probably the most efficient drill I've experienced. Good job!!
After the lifeboat drill, I looked around the ship, my home for the next seven days. I returned to the cabin and prepared for my first dinner. I was assigned the 6:15 early seating. Our dining room staff was ok, although I've had better service on previous cruises. Our maitre'd (whose name escapes me) was basically a cheerleader reminding us to scream and cheer every night if we had the best waiter. I thought it was pretty tacky! My headwaiter was invisible appearing on the final night to provide us with a nice souvenir portrait of the Sensation. Our assistant waiter was switched a few nights into the cruise; we weren't sure why. Anyway, the food overall was pretty good. I enjoyed the lobster tail and prime rib on the first formal night. Other notable items were the soups (french onion, pumpkin, lobster bisque, and iced mango soup). The desserts were also good and well-presented. My tablemates were great (all traveling solo too). We had a great mix of people from all ages and backgrounds. Had some good times in the dining room, even though service could have been better.
Our first evening at sea featured the Welcome Aboard show with our Cruise Director, Simon Prendergast, in the Fantasia Lounge, the main show lounge. It is the usual welcome aboard jokes and audience participation. Tonight's event was the spoon game, where guests in teams of two had to filter a spoon through each others pants and blouses. Simon was a good cruise director. He seemed to be pretty giddy and energetic, but hey, I guess that is his job. I think cruise director's connect more with first time cruisers who haven't heard the jokes and the shopping pitches. In fairness, it is tough to top John Heald, who was our CD aboard the Destiny and Triumph. The social hosts were from Australia and England (I can't remember their names). After the games, the show ended with a comedian Thomas Brown. He was hilarious and his midnight show the next evening was even better. Each evening the Sensation has a midnight buffet and a crepes buffet around 1am. The midnight buffets were usually held in one of the main dining rooms and the crepes usually served in the Seaview. The midnight buffets on this ship were better than those on my previous cruises - more selection and beautifully presented. The crepe buffet featured many different fruits, chocolate sauces, nuts, etc. They were very, very good, and I don't think any of the other ships I've been on served the crepes. I'm not sure why. If you like sushi, however, the Sensation didn't offer the Sushi bar prior to dinner as on the Inspiration and other ships.
Monday was our first of three sea days. The weather was warm as we sailed for Grand Cayman. The activities for each sea day were plentiful and included dancing, bingo, art auction, survivor at sea, and golf. Monday was the first of two formal nights and included Captain Basso's cocktail party in the Fantasia Lounge. It included free drinks and hors d'oeuvres and big band dance music for the dancers. The first Vegas style show was called "Hey Mambo!" and was very entertaining despite many of the bad sight lines. I found it better to sit on the bar stools on the second level of the lounge for unobstructed views.
Tuesday morning we arrived in Grand Cayman. General tendering began around 8am. We were in port with one other ship (Royal Caribbean). Cayman is a beautiful, but expensive, island. I did some shopping, sampled the rum cakes and then headed back to the ship to catch some rays. Good excursions I've taken in the past included a trip to stingray city and snorkeling at Paradise Reef. You can walk there from the ship and the prices to rent gear are reasonable. We left at 1pm and they featured the Sensational Sangria Sailaway Party. If you like wine, it was $2.50 a glass. I didn't try any so I'm not sure how good or bad it was. The galley tour and food and beverage presentaion was held at 4pm. The repeat guest party was held in between main and late dinners in the Plaza Lounge. Drinks were free again and included regular drinks plus after dinner drinks for the early seating guests who had just finished eating. Bravo! Evening entertainent featured a comedian, Carl Faulkenberry, and the juggling skills of Victor Zuniga. They also had a Karaoke party from 7-9:30 in Michelangelo's lounge. Fun!
Wednesday morning we arrived in Cozumel, Mexico to rain. The weather was still warm. I had booked the Mayan Ruins of Tulum tour. I thought the ship dropped you off at Playa del Carmen, but I was wrong. We docked in Cozumel and then had to tender (45 minutes each way) to Playa del Carmen. Be aware of this if time constraints are an issue. After the tender, we took the buses to Tulum (40 minutes each way). The ruins were pretty neat and I am glad to say "I did that", but the tour was $72.00, expensive given all the travel time. Also, the Mexican government will charge you $5 to take your video camera into the ruins. Carnival told us $10, so I'm not sure what happened there. After the ruins, you have the choice of being dropped of in downtown Cozumel or back at the pier.
Upon return to Cozumel, it was neat to see that the Celebration and Fascination had joined the Sensation at the pier. Lots of ships everywhere. We had to be back on board at 5:30 to sail for New Orleans. The mexican party was to be held on Lido deck around 11pm, but the rain moved it to the disco and the Plaza Lounge. The reggae band, Laws, played in the Plaza Lounge to a group of about ten until midnight or so. The mexican buffet was held in the Seaview Bar and Grille.
Thursday morning you could tell we were not in the Caribbean anymore. The winds gusted from 25-35 knots and there was a definite chill in the air. The few sunbathers (me included) wrapped ourselves in blue beach towels while the clouds ruled the day. Eventually, we gave in and went indoors to warmer climates. This day, I attended the art auction. I'm no art expert, so I didn't bid on anything. However, others did and the auctioneer did a good job of moving artwork. I tried my luck at the balloon bingo, but didn't do well. Price was 5 games for $10 so I had to give it a try. Thursday evening was our final formal night. Evening entertainment featured the second Vegas style show, Party Time. We entered the Mississippi around 9:30. Just a heads up, the ship will list from time to time as the Captain navigates the twists and bends in the river. Hang on! At 11:00, Music Unlimited presented Beatlemania, a one hour tribute to the Beatles, complete with costumes. Don't miss it - it was great! Midnight comedy featured Tim Harkleroad.
We arrived in New Orleans at 6am on Friday. Our ship was cleared by US customs before 9am. Weather was sunny and temperature around 55. It was a great day to walk and explore the city. The ship docks next to Riverwalk, a commercialized shopping complex. After a ten minute walk through the mall (yeah it's big), you arrive at Harrah's Casino. From there, you can walk to the Aquarium or continue towards the French Quarter and Jackson Square. It was neat to see the French Quarter all decorated for Christmas. I walked through St. Louis Cathedral just before the 11am funeral mass. It was very beautiful. Afterwards, I walked down Bourbon Street and then back to the Sensation. Just a note, New Orleans is adult-oriented. Public drinking is permitted and encouraged and you will likely see adult night clubs and strip joints. Just go with an open mind and be prepared for this if you are easily offended. Guest talent show was 10:30pm that evening. Afterwards, the ship sponsored a huge Mardi Gras Party. Many guests dressed up in the masks, costumes, and beads. The atmosphere on board was great.
Saturday we were back in the Gulf headed home to Tampa. The weather was still cool, but had improved from two days previous. Tons of activities including the game show, newlywed game, hairy chest contest, and ice carving. At 5pm, there was a Christmas show featuring the singers, dancers, orchestra, Camp Carnival, and Santa Claus. It was a nice ending to the cruise and prepared us for the fast approaching holiday. The main entertainment that night was a balancing act, Lubo and Zoe, and Percy Crews, a comedian.
Sunday the ship docked at Channelside around 5:30am. The first group was called to disembark around 8:50. I did take the Carnival bus to the airport. Lines were long in the airport, but I had no trouble making my 12:45 flight back to Pittsburgh. Overall it was a fabulous cruise. I know it was detailed, but hey, if you are gonna do this, you better be thorough. If you have any questions that I didn't answer, by all means send me an email.
Happy Cruising, Brian email@example.comImagination - 7day Western Caribbean 12/98 Carnival Triumph - 7 day Western Caribbean 12/99 Carnival Destiny - 5 day Canada Cruise 6/2000 Paradise - 7day Western Caribbean 8/2000 Inspiration - 7 day Western Caribbean 8/2001 Sensation - 7 day Western Caribbean 12/2001
Other General observations: The Inspiration doesn't have FunVision, an interactive television system that allows guest to access Sail and Sign charges and purchase shore tours from their staterooms. The ship was clean and beautiful. It is about eight years old, but doesn't show excessive wear and tear. Tips are paid in cash at the end of the cruise on the Sensation. This will likely change soon. The ship has an internet cafe. The cafe always had some sort of sale or deal for sending Email or video mail, but we passed. $99 for unlimited access all week. Drink prices are too high. Drink of the day is now $6.25, up from $5.75. For a family of four a round of drinks can approach $30. Ouch!
This was my second cruise and first time on Carnival. I went onboard expecting many things not to be perfect but knew no matter what the conditions I wouldn't let it ruin my long awaited vacation. This was my first "real" vacation on over two years and belated fortieth birthday present to myself. . (I turned 41 on the cruise!) I don't feel I had to overlook many things and came away delighted and ready to go again.
On my first cruise ten years ago, the muster drill wasn't a long event. The staff told us that the drill would only last fourteen minutes. This muster drill lasted over an hour. I still have no idea why it lasted so long. My short neck and those life jackets didn't get along well, but a very small price to pay to begin having fun!
We arrived at the port about 11:20 a.m. and were surprised to find a line already winding around the building. The doors were opened to begin checking people in at 11:30 a.m. By 12:00 we were through the line, checked in, had our sign and sail cards,room keys and given a boarding group number. At 12:15, the first boarding group was called to board the ship. We were in the forth group and onboard before 1 pm, which is the listed embarkation time. Overall, I would say the embarkation was much faster than I expected. I would give the agents that day high marks for keeping the line moving.
Our cabin, E-51 was an outside starboard cabin. We found it spacious and loads of storage space. The cabin was clean and ready for it's new occupants. I opened the bathroom door expecting a "funky" smell to come wafting out. Much to my surprise it smelled fresh and clean. I flopped down on my new bed. I was shocked how HARD it was and though I do like a firm bed - this is really HARD. I slept like a baby on that firm bed and wished my bed at home was that firm!! After dumping the carryon on the bed, it was off to the spa! (The spa deserves it's own space later) Our luggage was outside our door by 3pm. (The over the door shoe organizer with clear plastic pockets was a life saver!!)
The Lido Lunch:
We found NO lines for lunch. I was one step ahead thanks to the tips I had received from the site. The buffet lunch had carved turkey (one of my personal favorite meats). I expected it to be dry and tasteless, but found it moist and sweet. What a nice surprise!! by 1:30, we had lunch and were fairly relaxed. I admit I was smiling watching others walking around clueless while we were enjoying the sites, smells and beautiful weather.
The Sensation might be nine years old, but is well maintained. All of the public areas were clean and sparkling and crew members were cleaning and shining at all hours of the day. The upholstery in the show lounges appeared almost brand new. The carpets in the public areas were in good shape. The main color of the public areas is a bright royal purple, which didn't bother me. As I child, I loved "grape" so my senses weren't offended. The layout of the ship is easy to find your way around. Most entertainment and food is found on 3 decks that are all just above the main "Empress" deck. I was amazed how much walking I accomplished!! by the end of the cruise, my knees were screaming, "Take the elevators, PLEASE!"
Prior to this cruise I had zero experience with gambling and casinos. I wasn't sure what to expect or what the standards are in this area. I found I liked playing on "their" money much more than my own of course!!! My third quarter in the quarter slots, produced me 120 quarters, which I used to play on for a long time!! Needless to say this was "beginners" luck and by the second or third night, I found out I didn't like playing on "my" money! The last sea day of the cruise, I discovered "Video Poker" and by the time I played my fourth hand, I was given 64 quarters to "play" with. I played for a very long time on those quarters. I know I played well over two hours with winning and losing. Of course in the end, the house wins but I liked playing for the most part on their money and only losing $40 for the week. I never did pay to play bingo, but I did enter the slot tournament in the casino (where the only skill you have to have is to push the button as fast as you can!) I found out my fingers and luck just isn't good enough. I wanted to try black jack, craps and roulette, but found out I don't have the stomach to lose $5 or more a "pop." Maybe next time!
The Spa and Beauty Salon:
These were lovely areas, but very over priced as compared to "land" prices. For my birthday I treated myself to a pedicure to the tune of $50. I didn't find anything "special" about the pedicure but it was fun to do it aboard the ship. Warning, the day after you have a treatment, it will be on sale 'Nuff said.
Captains Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party:
Imagine having read about these parties and expecting minimal service, poor drinks and no appetizers. I arrived to find waiters almost tripping over themselves to serve you both hot and cold appetizers AND the biggest shock that you could order any drink you wanted. From what I have read of other reviews, Carnival had been lacking in this area in the past, they certainly made a great come back from what I can see. (Our cruise director told us on the debarkation talk the last morning of the cruise that our sailing had already consumed for liquor than last years New Years Cruise with still ONE more day to go!) I must comment here that despite a lot of drinking that was obviously going on, I didn't see anyone falling down drunk, fighting drunk or getting sick in public places drunk as I had read on previous reviews. Everyone seemed to be responsible adults. (I did say "seemed" there are sure to have been those I didn't see!)
After having read lots of reviews, this too surprised me pleasantly. Almost every man I saw was either in a suit or a tux AND I would say out of ten men I saw four were probably in tuxes. The women were dressed EVERY night of the cruise from what I saw. I did see sequins, long and short dresses every night aboard and nice silks. Even on casual nights, many were still dressed up. We had two formal nights onboard this cruise. The second night was treated as formally as the first one by the passengers. This made dinner such a nice experience!
The amount of activities was great the first few days of the cruise, but the last "fun" day at sea activities were very sparse. I retreated to the casino and "discovered" video poker. I would have like to have seen more "free" adult activities.
Overall the evening shows were pretty good, but I have do admit I enjoyed the comedians most of all. Thomas Brown is a "MUST" see!! (Warning: material in the midnight show is strictly for adults!! If you aren't easily offended, you have GOT to see him at midnight!) I really enjoyed the sounds of "TGIF" in Michelangelo's lots of good classic rock mix. The Plaza Lounge has "Music Unlimited" playing nightly and I will say, you have to both hear and see these guys to believe it! I won't say more, just trust me it is a must see and hear especially the Grease Mega Mix. The first production show "Hey Mambo" was good but the second one "Party Time" seemed to get my hands clapping more easily.
Grand Cayman: What a wonderful place!! Too short of a time, especially considering you have to tender ashore. We did a 10 am highlight tour and enjoyed it immensely. I even had time to shop before the tour began. You have to be back upon the ship by 12:30 that cuts your time down a bit more too. I hope that one day they will make this port a longer stay. Seven-mile beach is beautiful!! (Despite the commercialization) The turtle farm was badly damaged during Hurricane Michelle but was up and running. Those turtles are amazing creatures. I was very impressed to find the Governor of Grand Caymans home so unlike here not all fenced in and heavily guarded. Once you have been to "Hell" you will understand exactly where the name comes from. One of my favorite stops was the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory. You might not think they sound yummy but they are soooo very delicious!! For those of you who can't visit Grand Cayman they have a website to order from (www.tortugarums.com).
The beauty of the water in Cozumel was the most incredible blue. No pictures do it justice. I had been to Mexico previously and I didn't take any tours, as this was where I had come to SHOP! I was on the "prowl" for silver earrings and pure vanilla. I enjoyed bargaining with shopkeepers. When you read, if they are selling on the street you can bargain with them, but if they are in a shop you cannot. Well I found out very quickly they ALL bargain. All the prices were in American Dollars, which was sad. I miss the old days of the prices in pesos. Much more fun to bargain then! The gold prices were a total joke. You can find much cheaper prices here in the states if you follow any sale advertisements. I ended up paying more than I wanted for my silver earrings but I did like the ones I bought, so I was happy. The Mexican blankets were easily found 3 for $12. The duty free shopping right on the pier seemed to have the great prices for liquor (best deals for liquor were onboard the ship) and a few other items. I could still kick myself for not getting an onyx chess set again! Even though I do not play chess, they are beautiful and would have been an excellent gift (large ones about $20).
The city of New Orleans has one of the best marketing ploys I have ever seen. You MUST walk through a mall to get to the "outside" world. They have a very well developed waterfront with the Aquarium and Harrah's across the street from the mall. I hope Tampa will develop as well in time. One very big contrast you will immediately notice in Nawlins is the very muddy Mississippi River. It literally looks like chocolate milk with things that resemble big Oreo cookies floating in it. The walk to Bourbon Street is a 30-minute walk. It was wonderful to sit outside in the brisk air at the Cafe Du Monde and have Cafe Au Lait and Beignets. As we were sitting there a jazz sax/trumpet player set up his "shop" in front of our table and began to play. It was wonderful sipping the cafe au lait, hearing the jazz music and then looking across the street to see the horse drawn carriages. Ah, that is living! Be warned in Nawlins even reading bottle labels on hot sauce can make someone "blush." For example, one had the label that called it "Butt Twister" and that was a one of the tamest labels I saw! Bourbon Street isn't an area for kids daylight or dark. I have never seen so many homeless as what I saw in Nawlins. It seemed everywhere I looked there was a homeless person either sleeping, leaning or crouched down.
Rusty Wallace/NASCAR Events:
The NASCAR driver-host of this cruise had many events that were planned for his fans. The first event registration was a full and total disaster! We stood in line over two hours to pick up our registration kits. This seemed to affect the muster drill that ended up lasting over one hour. I do think having that life vest on for an hour might have stretched my short neck! It was fun to see Rusty and his all over the ship everyday doing tourist things without being constantly hassled. The Wallaces ate in the main dining room just like any other passenger. Right after boarding if you recall earlier, I said I had headed to the spa. I had the most comical experience in the spa unknowingly tapping Rusty's wife on the shoulder and asking her where she got her Rusty Wallace Events card. You can imagine my expression when another passenger who had over heard my inquiry quietly called me over and explained that was Rusty's wife. I got a big chuckle out of that, as did the lady who had witnessed it.
We had requested late seating and did receive the 8 pm seating in the Ecstasy Dining room. Our waiter was eager to get us whatever we wanted even if it was three main entrees, which many of the men did have, and two or three appetizers. The beef was always cooked to order and tasted wonderful. The lobster tail I had wasn't good and ordered a replacement dish. The lobster tasted rubbery and like bleach to me. Everyone else said their lobster was wonderful and asked for second and thirds. We were seated at a table by a window, which I loved!! At breakfast and dinner, I was usually there alone as the others opted for Lido deck dining and I enjoyed the gorgeous window view. Open seating for lunch is the pits!! I avoided the dining room on open seating meals after that one bad experience. Imagine being seated with NINE people who are complaining about every bite of food. Their plates were full and they are eating, but still complaining. That experience ruined me for open seating meals.
This was a very funny experience. The waiter and assistant waiter seemed shocked we tipped them and were very gracious. We never saw the Head Waiter or Maitre'd to give them their tips. We even tried hunting them down. I tried to find our cabin steward the last night to give him his tip and was unsuccessful. I found him right before we headed to our debarkation station. Maybe most leave the tips in their cabins now days. I like handing it to them personally and thanking them for all their hard work.
We reported to the Fantasia lounge at the appointed 8:45 am time and waited. This was our longest wait (outside of the Rusty Wallace registration fiasco) on the entire cruise. We were off the ship and home by 11 a.m. I figure we were one of the first aboard the ship and being the last off the ship wasn't a bad thing. Who wants to leave anyway?!
Would I sail on Carnival again? You bet! Did I have fun? You bet! What would be the five things I would change about this cruise if I could?1. The length of time in Grand Cayman 2. No "open seating" for lunch/breakfast 3. Better smoke filters for all the public places. 4. More "At Sea" activities for adults who don't gamble. 5. A digital picture system that uses your cabin number and you can view your pictures on your cabin TV screen and either choose to buy or click to delete them. (I know dream on, but I do dream of the NEXT cruise already!)
Sorry is this is kind of long but I wanted to hit all the important information. Also sorry if it is jumping around a little bit. We booked this particular sailing on the Sensation because it was the Rusty Wallace theme cruise and my husband is a Rusty fan. Otherwise we wouldn't of sailed so close to the holidays. The ship was decorated very nicely for the holidays, lots of wreaths and garland. Very elegant, no tacky x-mas decorations at all. We live in Atlanta, GA so after work on Friday, Dec. 7th we drove down to Tampa and stayed at my parents house until we sailed on Sunday. It is about a 6-7 hour drive depending on how fast you drive.
We arrived at the Port of Tampa at about 12:45pm on Sunday. Unfortunately this was right after two Carnival buses had dropped off people from the airport. My father dropped off the six of us [me(22) and my husband (25), my mother (50+), brother (21), aunt (50+) and cousin(8)] so we didn't have to pay for parking. We flagged down a porter who took all our luggage andput it in the bins to board. As we were standing in line I actually saw our luggage beat us aboard the ship. We had to show our cruise documents and picture ID's to get in the door of the terminal. Then we stood in line waiting to go up the escalator to being the check in process. We waited on the main floor for about 20 minutes. At the top of the escalator was the security checkpoint. All carry-on's are x-rayed and you walk through a metal detector. I think the metal detectors have their sensitivity turned up because people were buzzing on buttons and watches. After the metal detector you wait in line to check in. Since we arrived directly behind the buses this took about 30-45 minutes.
After checking in with the Carnival agent you have to pick up your room keys and sign and sail cards and are given a boarding group number. We waited for the boarding number to be called (very nice waiting area with plenty of chairs). Once the number is called then you are photographed and it is stored on your sign and sail card. Every time you re-enter the ship this photograph is pulled up on the computer to verify your identity. After this comes the first of many photographs you can purchase. Actually our photo turned out quite nice, most people just looked tired in theirs. After the photo you go up another escalator and board the ship on the Empress deck into the main atrium. There will be several Carnival people to point you in the right direction when boarding the ship. Make sure your first stop is the pursers desk to pick up a ship map, it is very helpful the first day or two. The whole process took about 1.5 hours or so. We were lucky enough to be upgraded into our first oceanview room M185 (6B). It was not any larger then the inside rooms we had been in before, just had a beautiful view of the ocean and came with bathrobes for us to use on the duration of the cruise. We got a triple room so we had a pull down bunk and two beds on the floor that we immediately pushed together. My aunt was in a single (1A) E185 and was very comfortable there. My mom, brother and cousin were in an inside (4B) M145. They didn't get a triple, just a roll away. It was a little crowed but they only slept in the room so they didn't care. We all dropped off our carry-on's and grabbed the shore excursion order list and went to meet for lunch in the Seaview Restaurant. We all decided on excursions and filled out our forms and immediately turned them in at the box by the shore excursions desk. The sheet said that shore excursion registration would be after the talk about the various places but we already knew where we wanted to go so we turned the sheets in early to ensure our first choices. After lunch we returned to the rooms to find all our luggage waiting for us.
We were part of the Rusty Wallace cruise group as I mentioned. We had a letter waiting in the cabin for us that said we had to register and pick up our Rusty "stuff" in a certain lounge between noon and 3:30pm. We got to the lounge and waited forever. This was the first big Rusty cruise. The one in June only attracted about 50 fans so everything was waiting in their rooms for them when they boarded. Our cruise had 1200+ Rusty fans and do to some shipping delays we had to pick up the stuff. The registration was not handled well. This is my only real criticism of the cruise. Instead of just processing the line which would of not taken long at all. They decided to try to call people by their tour group or by their travel agency. The problem was there was no microphone in the room so you couldn't hear what they were calling out. Eventually they decided to just process the line. I was the last person to get all my stuff before the life boat drill. There were lots of really mad people who had to leave for the life boat drill and then get in line all over again. The special events people on the ship said that because the ship was sailing from Tampa and not Miami they couldn't get things organized in the way they planned and apologized for the wait. The two Rusty cruises for next year are both out of Miami so this problem should be cleared up.
Being part of the Rusty Wallace group cost no extra money. We received a Carnival bag, playing cards, 1 Carnival t-shirt, 2 rusty t-shirts, 1 rusty hat, 1 rusty license plate, 2 rusty 8x10 pictures and some little trinket stuff. Buying all this in the gift shops or merchandise trailers would of been well over $100. The special events included a free cocktail party, several question and answer sessions, an autograph session, a photograph session, and lots of chances to win prizes. You did have to purchase the photograph of you and Rusty. It was an 8x10 and cost $20. Seeing that I had just received over $100 of merchandise for free I didn't mind having to purchase the picture but plenty of other people complained the whole cruise about having to purchase the picture.
From my observations, the theme cruise drew a whole different crowd to the ship. We just enjoy cruising and didn't need a motivation or draw to get on the cruise. This theme cruise drew a crowd that wouldn't of cruised without Rusty Wallace being there. I feel that this drew lots of people who didn't really want to cruise and complained every step of the way about things that are quite normal in cruising (dress code, paying for alcohol, tipping, ect). We enjoyed the theme cruise but will not be doing another one. We had three days at sea. There was plenty of activities available to keep you busy if you wanted to be and plenty of deck chairs if you wanted to worship the sun. The ship was completely full but you never had to search for a deck chair. We got up late and still got chairs close to the main pool with no problems. The first day at sea was the first formal night, the captains dinner. Lots of people didn't come to dinner that night, I don't think they brought any formal clothes. They had wonderful food in the dining room. The photographers on this ship are really top notch. We bought several photos from the two formal nights because they were just wonderful. This was also the first show night. They had "Hey Mambo" as the show. It was ok. We also met a friend from cruisemates that I have been e-mailing for several months. Hi Lora!
Next up was Grand Cayman. We chose the Stingray City and Island Tour excursion here. It was a little more expensive but totally worth it. All the tours were to meet at about 7am in one of two places. The ship shore excursions get clearance to leave the ship much earlier (about 2 hours) then people just going to shore on their own. This is important because you are at this port for such a short time, we left at 1pm. This tour was great. We went to the Turtle farm, Hell, and the Tortuga Rum Company before going to Stingray City for about an hour. I would not recommend Stingray city for young children, there were several very scared children who refused to get into the water. We left my cousin at Camp Carnival for this day and he had an absolute blast. After the tour was over we purchased some rum cake from Tortuga Rum, the chocolate is yummy and I don't like rum! We had to go back to the ship at this point and we sailed away. This was the welcome back cruisers party night. We had a good time here. Important tip!!!! If you don't like what the waiters are bringing around to drink just go up to the bar and ask for your favorite drink. They will make it for you free of charge. We didn't find this out until the last 15 minutes of the party.
Next day was Cozumel. We decided on the Catamaran Sail, Snorkel, and Beach party tour. This was also good fun for all. We took my cousin on this excursion. The catamaran docks right down from the ship. They sail to the snorkeling sight (Chakanababa park) and let you snorkel for about an hour and then you sail to their private beach where they have kayaks, floats, an open bar, bathrooms etc. You also have about an hour here. The snorkeling was okay. Most of the coral was dead or dying from people touching it to much. The fish were pretty. There were lots of little jellyfish in the water. Lots of people got minor stings, including my little cousin. It was gone by dinner time. After snorkeling they open up the bar and beer and margaritas are included (soda too). On the way back to the ship they had a congo line and people were doing tequila shots, surprised the heck out of me when I saw my mom in the congo line. I would consider this sort of a party boat. It was good for all age groups, all the kids on board had a great time too. After we returned to the pier we got on the ship for lunch and to change. Then we got back off and went to downtown Cozumel. It is $5/cab each way from the pier. I didn't enjoy shopping. I don't like being haggled or grabbed (physically) to come into someone's shop. We didn't stay long. We had another day at sea here. This was the Gala formal night. Once again wonderful food and a beautiful buffet. This is the only one I made it to and I had to set an alarm to wake up for it. This show was much better. I'm drawing a blank on the name but it was much better then the first.
New Orleans was our next port. We had to wait on the ship until after 9am because 4 people didn't show up for immigration like they were supposed to. Since this is the last port and is a US city immigration is done here instead of in Tampa. Makes debarkation faster. We walked down to Bourbon Street and did a little sight seeing. We took my little cousin with, but after two blocks of x-rated stuff and him asking LOTS of questions my aunt took him back to the ship and to Camp Carnival. Bourbon street is interesting but don't take kids. There is LOTS of X-RATED clubs with graphic pictures outside. Not something you want the kids to see. We went to Pat O'Briens and had a Hurricane and then got some lunch at a local restaurant. Then we went to Fat Tuesdays and had another drink. We got some beads and masks for the deck party that night. Went back to Riverwalk where the ship was and bought some more souvenirs and had one last drink at the Fat Tuesdays right before you get on the ship. I liked their strawberry daiquiri better then the one on the ship and they mudslide was really good too. My brother tried their 190 Octane and got tanked quickly. Made it to dinner but not to the deck party. We were too tired from walking all day.
Our last day at sea was very full of activities and we squeezed packing in there somewhere. I wish they would of had some of the activities at the other days at sea because it was really busy for the last day. Went to the debarkation talk. Same speech, basically don't do anything illegal and you will not have a problem with customs. This was also the night to give out tips. I was very disappointed with some of my fellow cruisers on this night. At dinner the dining room wasn't even half full. The entire table next to us skipped out so they didn't have to pay their waiter who worked his tail off the whole cruise for them. We tipped everyone extra because they were really great the whole time. We also gave everyone a little holiday gift. We had candy canes and my mom had these little snowman cups with candy in them. All the other waiters were coming over to see these presents all night. I know I would hate to be away from my family over the holidays and this helped with a little holiday cheer. After the first night the waiter remembered what salad dressing you wanted, how you liked your meat, what beverage you preferred, everything. He was really great with my husband who is allergic to onions. He told Ed every night what entrees had onions in them and which ones were safe. Our waiter was Eddy form Indonesia and our assistant waiter was Katrina from the Czech Republic and they are awesome. We are going to write Carnival a letter to praise them. I know that is how they get promotions and both deserve one. Also the waiters sang "God Bless America" the last night and almost everyone was crying or teary. It was very moving.
We had the early seating so breakfast was at 7am in the dining room. We went to that to say good by to our new friends at the table (Hi Virginia and Bill if you are out there). After breakfast we went to our cabins and watched TV until it was time to be at our assigned location (Lido Deck). General debarkation didn't start until after 9:30am because people were not answering their pages to report to the pursers desk to settle their accounts. The people with early flights and the people who were in wheelchairs were first off the ship. Then people who had Carnival transportation transfers to the airport where let off next. Finally they started calling colors. We were the second group called and lined up to get off the ship.
I really don't understand what part of "don't stand in the hallways by the stairs" people don't understand. There was a group of ladies standing in the hallway so the entire line had to go down to one row from the thee to go around them and then there were 3 ladies sitting on the stair case we had to use so the 2 lines had to merge into 1 to go around them. It took about 10 minutes to work our way off the ship. Then it was baggage collection time. Make sure you have some identifying tags on your luggage. We had purchased three color fluorescent straps to go around all our bags to make identification easier and they really helped. It was worth the $6 we spend on the straps to find our luggage so fast. We grabbed another porter and went through customs with no problems. We walked out and saw my dad pulling up in the van and hopped in.
I enjoyed this cruise. We tipped one of the drink people (Donnie) the first night and he went out of his way to find us everyday and make sure we were happy and made sure we had a drink if we wanted one. For $2 he was very attentive. My husband really appreciated this and we mentioned how attentive he was on the survey at the end. He will make a good waiter some day. I think that the Sensation had just switched to the four dining times (5:45, 6:15, 8:00, and 8:30) because they were still working out some scheduling kinks. We had the 6:15pm dinner and it was perfect. We were not rushing back to the ship to get ready for dinner. Many nights they only had one show and it was at 10:30pm. We are not really night people, so we missed many of those shows. I think that would be the benefit of the late dinner but I just can't eat that late. The pizza was great, very yummy crust. The Seaview Cafe is pretty good considering it is buffet style. The dining room is better but the Seaview is tasty too.
Camp Carnival did a great job with my little cousin. He is living with my parents this year until his mom straightens out a little. I have never seen him smile so much before. The counselors were great with him. They have every Nintendo game known to children on the ship and he tried out a bunch during the scheduled Nintendo time. He ate with them on one of the formal nights and then came to regular dinner the other time. It was a very good opportunity for him to observe how people act at a formal sit-down dinner since most of his experience is at McDonalds. He usually fights going to sleep at night but they wore him out and he pretty much was asleep before he hit the pillow on the ship. The waiters were really good with him. Since he was 8 they brought him a regular menu and a kids menu so he could chose. It made him feel really grown up. He tried lots of new foods on the ship but still enjoyed french fries and a hamburger several days. They were good at anticipating which items he probably wouldn't like and had a burger waiting for him. They also remembered his favorite sundae every night without him having to ask.
The Sensation is an older ship, so the carpet and decor has a little wear. Personally I could care less what the carpet looks like while I am on vacation, but I heard others complaining about it. It is awful hard to replace carpeting in the 3 hours time they have between cruises. Otherwise everything was pretty clean and the staff was great. I didn't mention our room steward but he was great too. I think we were the only ones in his group with early seating because he always hit our room right away and cleaned it up.
Hope this helps others who are looking at the Sensation or other Rusty Wallace cruises. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me and I will be glad to answer.Michelle Mathis
I waited awhile before posting my review of this ship for many reason,but the main reason, I wanted to complete my cruise journal and scrapbook, to use as my guide..
This was my first cruise and although I was a little apprehensive about cruising on this particular ship, I was pleasantly surprised...Overall the ship is very nice, bold color schemes throughout (sort of like vegas style) and very well kept to be 8 years old.. The food was very good, activites were plenty for one week, and the few shows I did see were good as well with the exception of the comedy show, that was awful!
Ports of call:
Cayman Island - Although the beaches were gorgeous as well as the water, I did not have a really good feeling about this island. I guess my expecations were too high from all the brochures I've seen, but overall I am glad I got a chance to visit.
Cozumel Mexico - This is definitely a place I will return again and stay on land for at least a week..Beautiful beaches and water,great shopping, and the people although aggressive, I found them tobe friendly as well.
New Orleans - Like no other place I have ever been, I will return here again too, if only for the shopping and dining..The nightlife is wild! but everyone seem to be having fun!
The Ship overall:Rooms - better than I had expected, very clean, and spacious Service - very good, never had a problem here Food - very good, I was pleasantly surprised here too! My favorite dishes: Sweet and sour shrimp and Salmon and rice!
The only problem I had with this vacation was the overwhelming amount of kids, now don't get me wrong, I knew what I was getting into when I booked this cruise, but these kids were very annoying..It was almost as if carnival did not have anything for them to do, although I did see the smaller children being entertained and kept busy by the staff, but the older kids up to about 21 were just annoying..Running up and down the sairs, playing on the elevators, loud talking each other in the halls, throwing food at each other on the lido deck (the security guards had to break this up), being rude to guests, it was awful. I was told the day we docked at New Orleans that a few people (young adults) were escorted off the ship by police due to a disturbance the night before. I have kids myself, they are young adults, but my tolerance level is way down from when I was raising my own kids..People should definitely have better control of their kids or don't bring them at all. Otherwise, I will probably sail with Carnival again in the future, but for now, I may try a different line. Adults only cruise, hey! now thats a concept!!! I am sure one exist somewhere!
Thats all folks!!Louise Williams
This was the fourth cruise (second on Carnival) for my husband and I and the second cruise for our kids (daughter 12/son 9). We sailed Carnival for the first time with the kids last year because of the bargain rates and the reputation of the kids program. We didn't have high expectations and that cruise exceeded our expectations in every way. We knew we would choose Carnival for our family again, and soon! We chose the Sensation because of it's great itinerary and we liked the size and layout of the ship which was identical to the Fantasy we sailed on last January. The ship's public areas, decorated in wild color schemes like most of their ships, had newer carpeting and looked well maintained and clean. It never seemed crowded even though the ship was full. The weather was really nice all week (low 70's to 80). It was the smoothest sailing we've ever experienced. CD was Larry Garlutzo from England who was a riot. He'll be going on vacation in a few weeks and then he will join the Spirit as assistant CD to Shawn Bussey. We didn't goto Grand Cayman because of a medical emergency on board. The ship had to turn back to Key West on Monday where the individual could be airlifted by the Coast Guard and taken to a hospital. Instead, we arrived in Cozumel on Tuesday about 4pm and stayed till Wednesday 5:30pm. This was fine with us since we had been to Grand Cayman before. This cruise was our best vacation ever. Excellent service, very good food, so many activities, Cozumel was paradise and New Orleans was sooo much fun. We all hated to get off that ship! We feel this vacation was such a bargain for a family of four. Don't know what could top this vacation (except maybe doing it all over again, LOL). Just can't say enough about it, as you'll see...
Embarking: Flew into Tampa on Saturday morning to stay overnight with in-laws who live 40 minutes south of Tampa. Coming from Philadelphia, we didn't want to take any chances that a snowstorm could delay us. In-laws drove us to the pier on Sunday and we arrived at 12:15, weather cold and drizzling. Valet drop off, porters took bags right away, tip $1 per bag. Embarking was very organized and went quickly even though lines were long. We picked up our sail and sign cards and keys, had our first of many pictures taken and were in our cabin by 1:00. Luggage was delivered to our cabin by 4:00 which was impressive.
Carrying Wine/Champagne on board: Had 3 bottles of wine and 1 bottle of champagne in our carryon -went through xray, no questions, no problem at all. Husband had a bottle of scotch (poured into a plastic club soda bottle and wrapped in bubble wrap) in our checked luggage and it made the trip from Philly with no leaks:). DON'T forget the corkscrew! We don't find the drink/wine prices on the ship outrageous at all, in fact they are the same we would pay at any restaurant here at home, we just like to have wine in our cabin for convenience sake.
Cabin: We had a quad cabin (2 singles plus 2 uppers) on Empress Deck aft, E-195. We've been in a quad with the kids before and the space was sufficient for us. Lots of storage space, even for a family of four. The carpeting looked new, the bedspreads, blankets and shower curtain need replacing. Our cabin window, which was a great size, really needed a cleaning. Windows in the public areas seemed to be clean though. Having sailed w/Carnival before, we knew what to expect and we were not disappointed. We really like the Empress deck because you are only one or two decks below most places you want to go. Also, the kids playrooms are right down the hall and up the steps, impossible for them to get lost. We only saw our steward twice (moved the beds together ourselves) but everything was always in order, we always had enough towels, and he kept our two ice buckets full. He did leave towel animals and chocolates each night and the kids were thrilled about that. The water pressure in the shower (big enough for two) was great, nice and hot too. There were two terrycloth robes and an amenity basket in the bathroom. The A/C worked well and was adjustable. DO bring extra hangers, a multi-plug outlet and room deodorizer. I've heard complaints about a "sewage" smell coming from some of the bathrooms but we had no odor at all.
Seaview Grill: Only had lunch here the first day (just OK) kids had breakfast here one morning. They do have self serve soft ice cream here which my son really enjoyed. IMO the food here is buffet/cafeteria like, usually with long lines, and the food just doesn't look too appetizing to us. We try to eat all our meals in the dining room. The pizza place is in the rear corner of the Seaview and the pizza and Ceasar salads are great. You can carry them back to your cabin if you like.
Dining room: We had asked for early seating back in July when we made our reservations but we were given late seating (8pm) in the Ecstasy dining room. We were told to go to the Card Room to have it changed. There were quite a few people there so it was a 20 minute wait. Everyone was told they would have to go to their assigned dinners the first night and they would receive a card in their cabin by 2:00 Monday stating your new dinner time/dining room/table number. We received our notice and were changed to early seating (5:45pm) Ecstasy dining room. The dining times for the Fantasy dining room were 6:30 and 8:45. I assume they assign you to the Ecstasy if you're cabin is aft and the Fantasy if cabin is forward. We normally prefer late seating, but with the kids along, early seating is a must. Our waiter and assistant waiter were wonderful. They anticipated our every need and were especially nice to the kids and accommodated their every request happily. We were at a booth for 6 with a nice window view but the other two people never used the dining room so we ended up having a roomy table for 4. Overall, the food at breakfast, lunch and dinner was great and presented beautifully. IMO, at dinner, the seafood was always great, the beef tasted wonderful but was a bit tough, pork and veal were wonderful, chicken, depending on the dish, could be a little dry. No complaints at all. We ordered 2 appetizers a couple of nights and 2 entrees a couple of nights. I think Carnival does an excellent job considering they are serving 2000 people. We noticed the bar waitress service at dinner was much better than on the Fantasy. She always checked if you wanted a drink as soon as you sat down and she always came back to check for refills. We noticed our waiter would also refill our wine when they noticed our glass was almost empty, which the waiters didn't do on the Fantasy. DO remember to ask your waiter for expresso/cappuccino, as they don't offer it unless you ask. Once we did, they would bring it every night. Met some nice people who sat near us. The Maitre D' had a great sense of humor and constantly circulated to check on people to make sure everyone was happy. Both formal nights (Monday and Thursday) were very nice. Did see some tuxes this time. Most women in cocktail dresses, men in suits or sports coat. The cocktail parties before were nice too.
Room service: As always, the service is excellent. The longest we waited was 10 minutes. Amazing. Great sandwiches. The kids loved the bagels, P&J sandwiches, chocolate milk and cookies. They REALLY loved room service. Our bill (even though it's free) at the end of the week showed they ordered room service 21 times! LOL. Tip $1-$2 per person.
Pool: The lounge chairs right around the pool were pretty tough to come by. I didn't notice many lounge chairs being saved, just occupied. There were always other places to sit though and we liked to sit on the bench right around the pool. The Jacuzzi's were very warm but not hot which was fine with me -- they felt so good! Especially with the "drink of the day" LOL. The pool towels are around the pool, the bar waiters were always at your service. The music was nice and it was just a fun, no worries, vacation atmosphere. We all played a lot of ping pong and shuffleboard on deck and of course the water slide was awesome. The slide is open a few hours a day, different times depending on whether it is a sea day or port day. Took my walks up on the track on the sports deck -- it was glorious. Felt so good and got rid of a little guilt from all the food I consumed LOL. Pools are open 8am till dusk, Jacuzzi's 8am till 12am.
Entertainment: There's so much to do! We're not much for shows so I can't comment much here except that people who did attend the shows seemed to really enjoy them. We did see the adult and kids talent show and some of the Mambo show. All show times are 8:45 and 10:45. Also, there is an occasional midnight comedy show. There is a deck party at 10pm the night you're in Cozumel and a MardiGras parade and party at midnight the night you're in New Orleans. They video each days events and they are on your TV (channel 6) in your cabin the next day. They sell the daily video's for $35 or you can buy a condensed version of the whole week for the same price. We had a blast at the casino and met so many nice people. Had a great time at the disco and Michaelangelos. Played bingo -- didn't want to miss the bingo for the free cruise LOL. No, sadly, we didn't win the cruise. DO remember when you go to bingo if it says 10am bingo doesn't actually start until at least a half hour later. You sit while they sell bingo cards and serve drinks. We received an invitation in our cabin for the "repeat" cruiser party which was one hour with open bar/butlered drinks and hors doeuvres. BTW, Joe's Cafe is closed and will reopen as an Internet cafe (75 cents/minute) in a few weeks.
Camp Carnival: Was wonderful as always. The counselors were just so energetic and fun. Both our kids were in the 9-12 age group and they participated in so many activities this time. There were only 110 kids on board this week so there were only a dozen kids at any given activity for their age group which was kind of nice. There were a few boys my sons age and two girls my daughters age that participated in Camp Carnival. The counselors told us there were only 75 kids the week before us and that during the summer, Easter, Xmas, New Years and Thanksgiving there are 800! Wow! We brought home the activity sheet for the week so if you have kids in that age group and have ?s, just email me. The kids won all sorts of prizes and trophies. We really enjoyed the Camp Carnival Talent Show (daughter wrote a poem about the cruise, son hula-hooped around his neck to rap music LOL). Our son won the ice cream eating contest (no surprise there :)) They also saw the Mambo show and the adult Talent Show with camp carnival. Their favorite events were the kids talent show, the farewell party, karioki, Nintendo 64 time, ping pong tournament, and the stay-up-all-night sleepover. The last night of the cruise at the farewell fiesta the kids get a memory book with pictures of them in their activities and they exchange addresses and email addresses with their new friends. Our kids were teary eyed when it was time to leave. They had the time of their lives. It was so gratifying for us to see them enjoy themselves so much all week. At the Farewell Fiesta we tipped the 3 counselors who were with our kids most of the time $10 each.
Cozumel: Got off the ship and took a 10 minute taxi ride to Chankanaab Park ($8 one way/4 people). $10 per person admission fee for ages 8 and over. It was so beautiful there. We arrived at 9:15am so there weren't many people and we got a perfect spot on the beach right by the water with a grass umbrella. Plastic lounge chairs are provided (which are shaped a little strange, were comfy but not easy to get out of for some older people). There is an outdoor restaurant with a gorgeous view, a separate kids beach with sand where we had the kids practice their snorkeling for the first time. Snorkel equipment is available on the beach for $5 per person for the day plus $3 if you want a life vest (got them for the kids). We brought alcohol wipes to wipe down the snorkel equipment because I'm anal about that stuff. :) The life vests were really great for the kids but they liked wearing their watershoes because they found the fins too cumbersome. My husband and I really liked the fins for ourselves because you could move around much easier and you didn't tire as easily. We all snorkeled on and off all day and it was just magnificent. The outdoor showers and bathrooms were clean the day we were there. The waiters on the beach serve you drinks and food. The pina colada's in the pineapples were unbelievably good. It was paradise. We saw the gardens, the ruins, the dolphins, the gift shops, the sea lion and parrot show ($10 per person included two great pictures of us with the parrots) and our daughter got to use a lot of spanish that she learned this year at school. It was a wonderful day, we hated to leave, and barely got back to the ship on time. DO remember your underwater camera ($10) from home. They were $25 in Cozumel and on the ship. Our underwater pictures turned out awesome.
New Orleans: Got off ship and walked to the French Quarter/Bourbon Street. What a place! We took a mule and buggy tour ($30 for 4) which was really fun. The mule and buggies are available at Jackson Square. We all enjoyed the many street performers in Jackson Square and all over town. Chris the juggler took my son out of the audience to do some juggling with him and then he pulled my husband out of the audience and juggled knives over his "privates" while he laid on the ground on the "suicide towel," it was hysterical. We visited a lot of famous places, Emeril's place, Jimmy Buffets place, voodoo shops, Preservation Hall, O'Briens, Arnauds. Don't miss the cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe DuMonde -- they're wonderful. Had lunch at Johnny's Po Boys. Husband and son took the train back to the ship and my daughter and I stayed and shopped for beads and masks for the Mardi Gras party (at midnight), then walked back. Walked through Riverwalk Mall but it was just like home. BTW, beads and masks are cheaper on Bourbon street than at the mall.
Tips/Debarkation: They have not implemented tips on your Sail and Sign cards yet so tips are still strictly cash. The "team" waiters haven't started yet so tips are same as before. Cabin Steward and Waiter $24.50/pperson/week and assistant waiter $14/pperson/week. So for a family of 4 we paid $100 to the cabin steward, $100 to waiter, $70 to assist waiter. Also gave them $20 each the first day, it's just something we like to do, makes them happy and we think we get better service. Most of the staff gets off at port to call home so if you have a chance to pick up some phone cards they would love them as tips. Your luggage has to be out in the hall by 1:00am Sunday. Have to be out of your cabin by 9am. Our color was called about 9:45 and we debarked the ship into the terminal to collect our luggage. If you fly USAir they have a baggage check-in right at the terminal which was really convenient for us. Took a cab to the airport ($18/four people/plus tip) and arrived about 10:15 to wait for our flight for Philly. So sad.
We took this cruise as our very first actual Carnival Cruise, although we have been on ship tours and we did a two-night agent cruise on the Victory. We took along two of our boys, ages 13 and 9. This was also the first time we have ever used cruise line air.
The flight schedule was as expected with an early morning departure and one change of planes each way. No problems presented themselves and we got to Tampa on time. The agents at the airport were very helpful in directing us to our bus and helping us get our bags situated. After a very short wait we were on our way to the pier. Once at shipside it was also an easy process to get checked in and on board, taking about 20 minutes total.
The Ship: She's just like the other fantasy class ships, long, glitzy and well organized. Due to her construction its hard to find open deck until you get all the way to the top of the ship. All was kept in very good shape throughout the week. With 400 kids on board for this Thanksgivingweek sailing we were impressed with the feeling of friendliness among both guests and the staff. My biggest complaint is that there was far too much cigarette smoke on Sensation Blvd and the kids seemed to have control of the disco all week all night long. Also, they have closed Joe's Cafe and are using it for art previews and as a place to sit and hang out for the youths. I craved a cappuccino and had a hard time finding one most evenings.
The Cabin: If you haven't been on Carnival in a while you need to know that they are providing guests with cabin bathroom amenities now. No great shakes, but its nice not to have to pack shampoo. The cabin was a very good size for four and it was kept neat and clean all week. We never had to call for extra towels or toilet paper. There did seem to be an ice shortage some times.
Activities: I didn't participate very much. I did sit through a game show and tried to be a contestant but to no avail. Our friends won $500 at bingo. We played trivia at poolside once or twice. Generally I hung out at the pool, on aft deck or in the spa. I like that there is no additional charge for use of the steam, sauna and pools there and it offered a nice escape from the noise and the crowds.
The Kids: They absolutely loved it. This was my 13 year olds third cruise and his favorite by a long shot. The schedule for the kids is very extensive and he was always busy and often absent from dinner with us. The 8-year-old had the same experience (his second cruise). While Carnival is not my top pick for myself, we'll definitely use them again for a family cruise.
Food: The dining room was very packed but the service was good and efficient. There was no problem with over bearing head waiters and no problem with getting extra entrees or special requests. We were in early seating but skipped and then came to late twice during the week. Both times they had no problem seating us and even refused a tip when offered (believe it or not). The lido was usually pretty busy but finding a table was not hard. They are a bit slow in getting the places bussed but there were allot of guests and the staff size remains the same from cruise to cruise. In all things up there were fine. My wife loved the high tea service daily.
The Ports: The Grand Cayman stop is just too short at 4 hours. Do Sting Ray City first thing in the morning so that you have some time on your own. The shopping is high end but don't forget to take home some rum cake. If you just want to hang out there is a good snorkeling site right near the tender dock. Cozumel is a full day and in my opinion it is the best port on the Western Caribbean. We were supposed to scuba but the weather was rough so we hung around town. When you are there don't miss Chankanaab for beach and water fun. In town we found a restaurant called Pancho's Backyard. It was great and they had the most potent and tasty margaritas I have every "drunk". New Orleans is fun with the Aquarium a short walk away and then on to Jackson Sq. and the French Quarter for some interesting sights and sounds.
In General: This ship provides a good value most of the year but because of that you can expect it to be crowded at times. Our ship was sold out and there were literally hundreds of kids on board but even so we hardly ever stood in a line and never had a problem finding a deck chairs (well maybe twice). Carnival provides a very good family cruise with great programming and a clean and well serviced environment.
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