Carnival Cruise Lines
by George Smart & Eleanor Stell
We had a wonderful trip on the Sensation to Grand Cayman, Cozumel and New Orleans. The Sensation is a great ship: large enough to have plenty of privacy if you wanted it (considering there were 2,000 passengers and 900 crew members on board), but not so large that you didn't get to know people. Most of the wait staff is from Croatia, Romania, and Indonesia. All of the Cruise Director staff has English or Australian accents, except one. And all the ship's navigational and engineering staff, including the captain, are Italian.
On the Ship
- At lunch in the Seaview Restaurant each day there is a special table you can order from - Carnival doesn't advertise this. They had dimsum one day, and the last day they were making fresh caesar salad with salmon which was very good.
- The coffee is not the best. It's not the staff's fault -- it's the desalinized water, which is pretty flat.
- Long lines form inside Seaview for lunch and breakfast. Walk 50 feet to the outside buffet (same food) and the wait is no more than a minute, if that.
- The 24/7 pizza and ice cream was a universal hit on board. They also served calzones (not to mention caesar salad, plain or with chicken) but you have to ask for them. We even had pizza for breakfast one morning with an ice cream after. Makes you feel like a kid! This is a great addition to cruising.
- Carnival does not advertise their adult soda cards, which are a great savings and convenience. A Coke (soda or pop -- depending on where you come from) costs $3 each. With an adult soda card all you do is show your card to get all the soda you want. The card costs $30 for an adult for a 7-day cruise. We drank an average of four club sodas a day each, so we saved about $100! There are cards for kids, too, at a lower price.
Our cabin (Riviera 92) was clean, spacious, and nice, with two great terry cloth robes you get to wear until Day 6. (They were so nice George bought one to take home.) We really can't see why anyone would pay more than this class of room with a window (6A), as it is plenty big and you're not there that often.
The cabin bathroom, as mentioned in many other Carnival reviews, did smell slightly. The low-water toilets just don't flush as well as those most people have at home. We'll carry a small Airwick next time.
Public Rooms & Entertainment
The most romantic view on the ship is out the stern from the ten small tables outside the Seaview restaurant (either side). Just go out the glass doors. It was never crowded there, which amazed us.
The Casino is like every other casino. If you play, you only have to choose how much you lose and how fast! Other reviews hinted that the slots are easier going out of port, but we didn't find that to be a factor. Do play the Free Cruise raffle on the last night - and you have to be present to win, so plan to stay up. Play Bingo late in the week on Friday and Saturday when the prizes double or triple. They have Scratch-off Lotto cards for a buck; Carnival must make a mint on these. You're no more likely to win at sea than if you are playing back home (assuming you live in a Lotto state), and the maximum prize is only $1000.
We didn't attend any of the big "Vegas-Style" shows but heard that the Mambo show on Monday night bombed and the second show on Thursday was pretty good. The comedians (there will be 2-4 per cruise) are hit and miss. We saw two out of three and neither was very funny. The best shows were put on by the very funny and affable Cruise Director, Greg Kneale. Be sure to see "Bedtime Story" and the "Mr. and Mrs. Show." The house band, Music Unlimited, is really pretty good. When the Asian guys in the band start singing Louis Armstrong (and doing it WELL), that's a hoot!
The traditional Captain's Welcome has been modified. You don't get your picture with him or shake his hand anymore. Our captain was particularly humorless and flat.
The Photo staff is in your face a lot the first few days, but after a while they are less aggressive.
Off the Ship
- Definitely take a taxi to and from the Tampa airport -- it is cheaper and much faster than the cruise line's transport. We shared the ride with another couple we met at baggage claim in Tampa! (Hi, Lisa and Mike!) The total for the four of us was $20 and returning $25 because we took a taxi minivan. Carnival's transport charges $28 round trip per passenger.
- On Grand Cayman we took the Cockatoo Catamaran to Stingray City, a sand bar where you swim and snorkel with the sting rays! This is the only place in the world you can touch them (all very very tame from years of tourists). It is a fabulous experience to have them come up to you, rub against you, eat out of your hand, and for the brave of heart let you hold and kiss them! A very unique and exciting experience. There are many excursions that go to Stingray City, but this gorgeous catamaran (60 people max) is the nicest, especially compared to the two-deck party barges with up to 150 people.
- In Cozumel, the best way to get around is to rent a car ($40-70) and tour the island. Chakanaab is a national park that is great for snorkeling, swimming, swimming with dolphins, and sitting under a palm shelter, drinking piña coladas out of pineapples! There are many beaches all around the island that are quite gorgeous. The Horseback Riding tour is a big favorite, with part of the ride going to some Mayan ruins. The downtown area of Cozumel is very crowded and lively. Go easy on the tequila at Carlos and Charlies, a famous bar/restaurant in town; the big drinks are really enormous and pack about ¼ bottle of 180-proof tequila each.
- We went on the sunset cruise excursion in Cozumel. It was more of a party boat than a sunset cruise --- the drinks kept on flowing and there was very loud music and dancing. Get people drunk enough (which they did) and they'll enjoy just about anything (which they did, including a pretty awful lariat-wielding gaucho act on the top deck). It was not romantic at all, which is what were were expecting.
- In New Orleans, people reported they enjoyed the various tours, but we chose just to walk Bourbon Street all afternoon, which at noon on a Friday was already starting to crank up. We had the first Jell-O shots of our lives (hey, we're late bloomers) at the Court Bar next to the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant. $2 each using Everclear . . . Whoo-e-e-e-! Lots of music, dancing, great food and beads. We had to be back on the ship by 9:30pm, so we didn't get to see the town when things really got lively. It feels like you are in some other country there; everyone needs to see Bourbon St in New Orleans at least once.
Tips: Plan on taking $9 per person per day for tipping your waiter, assistant waiter, and cabin steward. Optional (but clearly expected) tipping includes the headwaiter (ours did nothing but occasional small talk) and the maitre d' (who was moderately entertaining).
It took us two long hours to get through the lines at embarkation. That was the worst wait of the trip. Be sure to complete all the paperwork Carnival sends you before arriving at the port to save time. [For you and for the people behind you. - Ed.] Disembarkation, however, went fast compared to what we had heard. We were told to be at our locations at 8:45am and we were off the ship by 9:45am -- not bad and no hassles.
For anyone like us who has trouble getting their land legs back (we don't get seasick, we get dizzy once we hit land again!) you can try this: order vitamins called lipoflavanoids from your drugstore and start taking them two weeks before you leave on your cruise and for a week after. Also, ask your doctor for a prescription for "antivert" and take one each night for the last two nights of your cruise and then one twice a day for your first week on land.
If you see Téa, from Croatia, please say hello from Eleanor and George. She is a waiter in the Fantasy Restaurant and she is very charming!
PHOTOS courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines.
George Smart and Eleanor Stell are consultants and speakers, have been on eight cruises to date and can be reached for questions or comment at:
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