Sensation "Cruise Bash" Eastern Caribbean September 1997
This is a review of my sailing aboard The ms Sensation on September 20, 1997 for a seven day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean ports of San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Marteen/St. Martin, from Miami, Florida. I was part of CompuServeís Cruise Bash which was sponsored by the CompuServe Cruise Forum (CompuServe is soon to be part of America On Line) and K.L. Smiths SeaLetter published by Sharon Jackson. Any opinions I express are my own and do not represent the views of the aforementioned entities.
Cruise Bash Group
The Ship:The Sensation is one of Carnival Cruise Lines Fantasy Class ships which also include the Fantasy, Ecstasy, Fascination, Imagination and some others, all with identical deck plans. I sailed on the Imagination to the Western Caribbean in December of 1996. Therefore I had little trouble finding my way around The Sensation. Of the two ships I must say that I found the decor on the Imagination to be much brighter and more cheerful
. A word to anyone with difficulty walking as I do. In general these ships are accessible with some notable exceptions. There are a few stairwells which lack handrails in the Fantasia Lounge or with hand rails that are too thick to hold (i.e. The Lido deck stage). Also the marble floor on The Promenade Deck is slippery.
The cabins on the ship are fairly spacious with adequate room for 3 people (in our Cat. 5 inside cabin) However I found the ladder which led to the upper bunk to be in the way sometimes. My two roommates Steve and Ken were easy to get along with. During the day we usually went our separate ways. Each room has a small bathroom with a shower. The shower was large enough but every time I used it a flood into the rest of the bathroom occurred. Also there was only one small safe for three people. Safe deposit boxes are available at the pursers office, at no charge. Note: You will be charged $40 if you lose the key.
Day One - Embarkation:I arrived at Miami airport at about 9:45 am which was actually late because my flight was delayed 25 minutes in Newark, NJ due to a baggage mix up. Still this is quite early. Rather than take Carnival's transfers as I had done in the past, I opted to take Super Shuttle (1-800 8SHUTTLE), a shared van service which was much faster. Cost: $7/person. I arrived at the pier around 11am and after wandering around a bit I gave my big suitcase to the longshoreman to load onto the ship (It was delivered to my cabin around 5 pm.) Check-in was quick and without hassle. Since I was so early I waited about a half hour before I could board.
I met Ken & Steve soon after boarding and then proceeded to the Seaview Grill for lunch which was hamburgers, French fries, etc. The food at the Seaview isnít fancy, however the quality is fairly good (except for a steak on Monday night which I returned since It would have passed for a hockey puck). Pizza is available 24 hours a day.
One of my favorite places on the ship is the Jacuzzi which was my next stop.
Gmam Tip: Bring a change of clothes and a bathing suit in your carry on bag. It was great relaxing while everyone else was still boarding.
I also toured the spa which was nothing but a sales pitch for skin treatments I can't afford.
I met with my friends Jen & Paula from AOL at 5 pm right after the lifeboat drill (which is the only mandatory activity the whole week. Boy is that life jacket uncomfortable!!!) at Joe's (never open) Cafe. We talked and walked around the ship for a while and Jen and I had a drink together which cost over $8 including the 15% tip. It's easy to run up a big bar tab here - everyone drinks, and Carnival really pushes it especially on the Lido Deck. We also checked out the duty free liquor store (the prices are pretty good) and the casino.
After separating, I attended the private party for Cruise Bashers where I met more people than I had previously only talked to by email or IM (and by phone in some cases). Then it was time for dinner. I will comment on the food later.
The show the first night was a disappointment. It was identical to the show I had seen on the Imagination last year and it wasnít great then. Overall, the best part was the audience participation segments. Much of the shipboard activities were identical to last year and the ones I liked last year were generally the ones I liked this year.
After the show I attended the singles party. This too was a disappointment as it was too short, and more could be done to get all of the guests involved. Also they didnít serve free drinks like they did last year.
The disco was next and I hung out there with friends until 2 am when I hit the sack. I am not fond of discos and this was no exception but it seemed like the place to hang the first couple of nights.
Day Two - At Sea:I started today with a workout in the Nautica Spa. Carnival ships are known for their Spas and this was true for the Sensation as well. The fitness room has treadmills, Lifecycles and Keiser air resistance equipment. I did my leg exercises and then used the treadmill. Then back to the Jacuzzi and breakfast.
Gmam Tip: The treadmills are busy early in the AM. If you wait till later you wont wait for a machine. I waited 20 minutes or so.
Later that day was the shore tour talk by Corey, The Cruise Director. As with a lot of Carnival's activities this of course was their commercial to sell shore tours. Since I already knew which tours I wanted it wasnít all that useful. Ditto the shopping talk on Monday.
This was the first formal evening so I wore a suit and tie to dinner. You can change afterward.
Around this time I became a little upset, because I was frustrated with the fact that many of the activities on board were the same as last year, They played the same deck games for example, diving for silverware and bikini stuffing. I considered invoking the vacation guarantee and flying home from San Juan, but instead I just asked to be re-seated at dinner and stay to check out the ports of call. I made the right decision.
The Las Vegas type show that night was Sensation-al.
Day Three - San Juan:Most of day three was a day at sea as well so Iíll skip the details and go right into San Juan. Captain Francolla drove us very slowly into the port of San Juan which gave us a fantastic view of the city off the left side of the ship. Frankly that was the highlight of this port for me. If you take a taxi you can go shopping in town or visit the hotel/casinos. Since neither of these options interested me I ended up having dinner with friends at the Hard Rock Cafe which is the only thing open near this otherwise dead port area. After my friends ate and I had a margarita, we went shopping for liquor which was held by the ship until Friday.
Gmam Tip: If you want to see San Juan in detail consider flying there early and taking a southern route cruise out of there such as Carnival's Inspiration. Also, Buy your duty free liquor on board if you intend on drinking it in your cabin.
After re-boarding I bet on the wooden horse races and saw several ship activities which I had not seen on the Imagination. The best was Dr. Ruthís Sex Quiz. I finally broke my no dancing rule at the Monday night/Tuesday morning deck party.
Day Four - St. Thomas:At 9 am after breakfast I wandered around the port area for a while and then took a taxi ($2.50 each way/shared) into town. Downtown St. Thomas is like most of the other duty free ports, in that there are hundreds of jewelry and liquors stores with pushy merchants.
I took the taxi back the port area, and decided to take the Paradise Point Gondola up to the top. The view is spectacular though maybe paying $10 is a little steep for that view. Also the computer program running the tram bombed about 1/4 way up the mountain and we had to wait while it was rebooted.
On to the Kon Tiki Party Raft ($39). This is a 100 foot or so long bi-level barge with a glass bottom. The raft pulled up right next to the ship where we got on. This was the one activity that all the AOL'ers (Jen, Jeff, Paula, and myself) had all agreed on. As soon as you board, the rum punch flows. Be warned itís 151-proof rum which is quite smooth but it kicks. Itís served in unlimited amounts. A calypso band was playing. On the way out they open up the glass bottom so you can see the reef below. I didnít see a thing. A few sights were also pointed out as we cruised along.
The raft pulls right up onto an empty beach where I went swimming for about an hour in 80 degree water. Thatís when the 151-proof rum kicked in and I was flying and ready to party which we did on the way back. I completely trashed my no dancing rules and got into, among other things, a conga line around the boat. I got off the boat quite happy. Gmam Tip: This was the best day by far. I highly recommend the Kon Tiki Tour. It was a blast.
There was a great comedian called Happy Cole at both the regular and midnight shows.
Day Five - St. Marteen/ St. Martin:I got off the ship and walked around for a while with Jen. I was looking at electronics since there are some pretty good prices in Phillipsburg. Then after dropping Jen off at the pier I took the St. Marteen Island tour. It was HOT today and I was wearing a black T-shirt. Big mistake!!!! I bought another shirt and changed. The tour ($20) is sort of interesting but this island which is half Dutch/half French is still pretty devastated from Hurricane Louis in 1995. After the tour I wondered why anyone would choose to live here. Still the tour is worthwhile.
One technical note: St. Marteen is a shallow water port where you ride tenders into shore. They can rock quite a bit even in calm seas.
Wednesday night was the guest talent show. One third of the acts were from our little Cruise Bash group.
Day Six - At Sea:This was the day I competed in the golf putting championship. I guess I am no Tiger Woods but it was fun. I got one out of three putts.
The Cruise Bash held a live conference to discuss our future today. This was the time to give feedback on the cruise to the group. We also played trivia and prizes were given out. A good time for all.
The second and last formal night came and went. I popped a bottle of Champagne (Courtesy of Carnival) at dinner.
Day Seven - At Sea:This is the saddest day of the cruise because it's almost over, Unlike the Imagination though at least I can still talk to the people I met and grew close to on the Internet. I was looking forward to being online again.
At 11am Corey gave his debarkation talk. I also entered the final slots tournament hoping to score at least high enough to get a second T-shirt to go with the one I had won from the Imagination. No such luck ! Afterward I watched the mechanical frog (from St. Marteen) races at the pool. Friday night I had one last drink with my friends. As is customary we tipped the restaurant and cabin staff the last night (About $60).
That night during dinner, the ship made a brief stop in the Bahamas because of a medical emergency.
Day Eight - Debarkation:Most of us "Bashers" waited together in The Michelangelo Lounge to debark which occurred around 10:30 am. Ken and I split a taxi ($10 each) to the Miami Airport where we hung out together for awhile. As with embarkation, taking a taxi (or van )is much faster than Carnival's buses. The flight home was smooth. I took a taxi both ways from Newark to home. Again It was well worth the extra cost. I got home at 6pm.
COMMENTS AND CONCLUSION:
Food and Beverage Service:I can't remember all of the dinner items I had each night but it was all excellent except for the previously mentioned rubber steak and the Oriental night, but I am not a fan of Oriental food anyway I tried to eat foods which I do not get at home such as shrimp cocktail, and squid (at the midnight buffet). The food came with a floor show at dinner with the waiters singing and dancing. I liked their version of the Macarena. I also thought that it was funny having 25 Non-Americans singing God Bless America on the last night.
Bring your camera/camcorder to the Thursday night buffet when they display the best ice and food sculptures. There was an Ice carving demonstration Thursday afternoon and a galley tour which I missed.
Our waiter Zubin, was great (very entertaining) and, unlike on the Imagination, the busboy kept our water glasses full.
Cabin Steward:Cecillio our cabin steward kept the room quite clean and kept us amused with towel animals. One tip: It makes his job much easier if everyone in the cabin has the same dinner seating.
Entertainment:Carnival has a well deserved reputation for providing great entertainment. None of the acts are big name, yet most of them are quite good. The R rated shows at Midnight were always packed.
However as noted earlier most of the daytime activities were identical to what was on the Imagination. This can be quite a surprise if you expected each ship to be different. Oh well, I suppose Carnival walks a fine line between guests like me who were expecting different, and those who want the same activities from ship to ship.
Conclusion:Cruising is perhaps the most vacation one can buy for a given amount of money and Carnival is one of the best buys in cruise lines. I think the idea of joining a group is very good one for a solo traveler like me. The Internet has been a great social tool for this purpose.
I had a great time for the most part after day two when I finally warmed up to the cruise. I think though that I might try a shorter cruise such as the 4 day Ecstasy Cruise to Key West and Cozumel if I go Carnival again. Then again the group,s thinking Holland America for the 1998 Cruise Bash. Hummmmm !!!!!!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please