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   Cruise Travel - Cruise Ships


Carnival Cruise Line

MS Sensation

Rating:Three Stars Plus
Submit your review hereSubmit your review
Operator: Carnival Cruise Lines
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1993
Length / Tonnage: 855 / 70,367
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 1,022 / 2,044
Officers / Crew: Italian / International
Operating Area: year round Western Caribbean from Tampa
Telephone / Fax: Tel 134 1372 / Fax 134 1373

Review by Mark H. Goldberg, TravelPage.com, Cruise Editor

I was aboard the STELLA SOLARIS, that 18,000 ton honey of a ship heading to the USA from Greece when I last saw the SENSATION. It was about 11:15AM and I, lazing in a chair on the STELLA's sunny lido interrupted my chat with friends to muse aloud...."Hmmm I wonder what THAT ship is back there..." In no time at all our conversation picked up steam again...after all...we WERE talking about ships (no surprise there!)...and just as quickly the form of the approaching liner revealed itself to be a FANTASY class "Mega-ship"...the only question was...which one? That was answered soon enough as the ship came near enough for the naked eye to read the letters on her bows... S E N S A T I O N... Speeding quietly past us, I remembered her vividly...Carnival's third FANTASY class ship...sailing sunny climes since her debut in 1993 brought her into the fleet...

With the SENSATION Carnival proved to the world that there was indeed a market in the 7 night cruise business for a "Mega-ship"...though with two amazing sisters ahead of her in the fleet, and news of several more to follow...the SENSATION had her work cut out for her in order to live up to her name...and I don't mean the sensation shipyard Wartsilla made when it produced a few weeks of speculation about the ship's eventual delivery when that company went bankrupt while the ship was still building....Anyway I think she does live up to her name! She has her devoted admirers who tell me and anyone else who will listen that there is no ship like her (they're WRONG about that...there are five ships like her and two more on the way but I THINK I know what they mean)...they like this one best for several reasons...among them the crew, the decor and yes... the satisfaction to the senses the ship purposely provides...That's how the SENSATION REALLY differs from her sisters...and why she is some people's favorite of this class of ship...As for me...I am not sure I have a favorite among them...I really do like them all...for me it's kind of like when I am asked which is my favorite Hawaiian Island...my favorite is the one I am on...(he said, diplomatically though allowing a grammatical error...)

What makes the SENSATION stand out from this crowd of superships is the realization of Carnival's and chief designer Joe Farkas' efforts for this ship to appeal to the senses with variations in light, tone, surfaces, fabrics...in short this ship allows you to experience a wide range of sensations...I admit that not everyone thrills to every last thing aboard...and one of the ship's signature pieces, the "Touch of Class" Lounge where a pair of sculpted hands form an entry gate and cupped hands are the barstools shocks some while others break out into howls of laughter....I think in this one Farkas was paying a LOT of attention to a certain episode of the "Odd Couple"...you know the one...where Felix redecorates the apartment and to Oscar's enormous consternation replaces the living room seating with a pair of chairs in the form of one white and one black hand....Well...who knows? I haven't asked Mr. Farkas about that and he doesn't need me to bother him...like it or not the room DOES make a statement....But there is such a wide range of design elements in this ship...people like sturdy, stolid ME absolutely LOVE this ship's Oak Room, the library midships on Atlantic deck...and who can deny that the soaring Grand Atrium Plaza is impressive?

Because this ship is very much a "middle child" and unlike ship #2, the ECSTASY, does not REALLY glow in the dark...the SENSATION has received precious little attention from the travel press, by the time of her first cruise well used to Carnival and rivals Princess and Royal Caribbean's giant 70,000 tonners....so except for the initial spate of informative articles about her...nary another word has been mentioned about her since...and that's too bad...she is a ship that really needs the occasional nice word about her to appear in print.

This is a good ship!... Yes, it's a Carnival liner but it's no longer the ships that set off some people's "social" alarms....it's some of the passengers (you know the types...they're the ones enjoying themselves...those unselfconscious folks who don't depend on anyone else for approval of their fun)...it's that unmentionable fact of American life...CLASS consciousness...that allows people to still tag Carnival's a lesser name...but let's face it...the cruise line that used to contend with the contemptuous appellation of being the "K-mart of the cruise business" has come a long way and LOOK AT THEM NOW!!! They've pumped billions into building the most enviable fleet of passenger ships ever known....you want big ships...? Carnival's got em....you want trendy, "luxury end ships" catering to a crowd of only 200? Carnival has ships for you there...want to cruise under sail?...Yup...through their Holland America Line (my personal favorite Carnival product) there's Windstar! Not that they need it...I applaud their great success and marvel that these ships are usually full ALL the time...

As for the SENSATION that means AT LEAST 2,044 and as many as 2,594 happy passengers EVERY week! Now you ask...if this is a ship for you? She might just be...if you want her itinerary..She's a GREAT ship for first timers...though if you want to be quietly alone you might do better on another hull...If you want to bring the children...if you have any...or like kids..and like to party...like bright lights, dancing, games, shows, amusements, and some of the most deservedly popular ports in the Caribbean (by the way, San Juan is on the Atlantic... a technicality to be sure...BUT...)...the SENSATION has a sensational cruise for you if you don't demand a quiet, sophisticated cruise ambience...If you don't insist on the finest of gourmet food, individually prepared and don't need hours of personal attention and service every day...you would probably like this one... Do I recommend her? YOU BET I DO!

Public Areas
It takes many of her passengers a full week to see all this ship has to offer...Quite a few even make new friends of some of the people they meet here...though with so large a cast of characters and so many places to be don't be surprised if you don't see the same faces more than once or twice! Aboard the SENSATION prepare to be entertained by some of the best sound systems and lighting effects anywhere. The casino is very active and is often PACKED with players three deep at the tables and people waiting for a turn at any of the 226 slot machines...or the "MEGACASH" slots... a system linked by computer to all the ships in Carnival's extended family...If you sunbathe topless or in an abbreviated costume in a deckchair with nothing under a hot sun with an ice bucket full of beer for company, you can do that here but I don't drink and I don't take a lot of sun (BAD for the skin) but I LOVE to people watch and always find something interesting to do or see here.

From the SENSATION's Grand Plaza Atrium...rising up all those decks to its cupola of glass on top this Carnival "megaship" has all kinds of public rooms and public spaces...Each sharing much in common with such spaces aboard sister ships yet each is different enough to give the SENSATION her own personality....A lot of the public rooms are located on Promenade Deck where you can't help but feeling how spacious this place..I mean SHIP...is....Notice subtly changing colors of the thousands of lights....On this ship the amazing duplex 1,300+seat showroom...that masterpiece of shipbuilding...forward on this and on Atlantic Deck is called the Fantasia Lounge...if nothing else...be sure to stop by some evening for some of the hit tunes of the "Big Band" era..and if you aren't shy...get up on that stage and dance! Come by at night and you'll LOVE the sounds and lights...oh...yeah...and the shows are pretty darn good too....

As for covering up the metal that makes a ship....on the public rooms decks in the SENSATION there's marble, colored tiles, glass staircases, radiant neon, rosewood paneled walls, leather couches...what .a lot of thought, imagination and work went into making this ship! One of the things I like most in the FANTASY sisters is called Sensation Boulevard on this one...on this main street running fore and aft you enter most of the public rooms...but this is no simple passageway ...by NO means!!! Take a walk from one end to the other and I defy you not to find at least ONE place you just LOVE from the series of cafes and bars, shop windows or lounge areas...even the ceiling that by night brings out the stars ought to please you...Make sure to stop by and see the Polo Lounge...that bar aft where people who are assigned to a table in the ECSTASY Dining Room usually congregate before dinner...I won't tell you ANYTHING more than it's my favorite room here...

But as always...my favorite item aboard this ship...just like it is aboard ALL of her sisters is the l2,000 square foot Nautica Spa....because I like to work out...I mean SERIOUSLY work out... and for me, these Carnival ships really do have just about the BEST fitness facilities at sea. Located atop the wheelhouse in the exact same spot you'd find it in any of the sisters, the gym shares the Captain's views forward and to the sides and working out here is a highlight of any of my days aboard any of the FANTASY class ships. There are six treadmills, more than 30 weight machines, free weights AND the ship has a separate one-eighth-mile jogging track. If you have the strength after all that....take in some of the aerobics classes offered throughout the day. Beyond that gym is the skylighted room with the hot tubs, the steam and sauna rooms plus a beauty salon... There's LOTS of deck space here and a BIG swimming pool (but it's NOT big enough for EVERYONE aboard to use at the same time)...and don't forget there is plenty of space for toddlers and kids in their own public rooms...

Don't expect leisurely unhurried dining here...that's not what this is about...The Fantasy and Ecstasy Dining Rooms each seat about 650 people at a time so there is no way to provide an intimate dining experiences here....there are even coffee shop style booths for six...three persons per side...someone on either end has to move if someone in the middle feels a touch of mal de mer or has to beat a hasty retreat to visit shall we say....the Ladies' lounge? There's no need to ask for a table in the smoking section...there IS no smoking allowed in the dining rooms!

Don't bother to try to get a table for two unless you are honeymooning or booked into a suite...Carnival wants you to mingle and those who "want to be alone" don't party much...Just keep in mind that this is a mass market operation and you will agree that as much as anything else food service epitomizes the concept...it's highly efficient, very organized...pay attention and you will see how hard the dining room staff works....pat em on the back...and tip them well!...they REALLY work for it...Carnival keeps working on getting its food ever better....though that woman who sang so lustily about Carnival's "fancy food" may NOT be credited for her evolved taste buds....It's NOT "eating fancy food" you'll do here but I don't think you'll go hungry either....and let's face it...most people at home have to go to the supermarket (except for one travel writer I know who doesn't cook so when at home lives on the bounty from the take-out salad bars from her local Korean owned grocery or feasts on burritos delivered if she calls the restaurant)...buy the food....haul it home...stow it....select what shall be cooked at a given meal....prepare it...serve it...you know what I mean.... so you really ought to be satisfied with the food here...THEY buy it..THEY cook it...THEY serve it...and best of all THEY clean up....all you do is EAT and EAT and EAT and oh, well YOU get the picture...

Aboard this ship you will be assigned a table at either of two sittings in either the FANTASY or ECSTASY Dining Rooms...yes...that's right... they ARE named for the SENSATION's sisterships...Breakfasts and lunches are often open sittings and you are always welcome to chow down from the breakfast or lunch buffets in the light, bright, airy and breezy (I mean AIR CONDITIONED) Seaview bar and Grill...it's high up in the ship on Lido Deck and I usually stop by for Lunch! LUNCH...somehow it's my favorite meal aboard a ship! You can get burgers or other fried or grilled fare from any of the serving station/lines...two out by the pool, or two indoors...and there are also a salad/bread bar and a pasta table... the food wasn't bad...but I never found it all that good either and invariably with the need to cook meat through and through...I found my burgers were usually dried out...but I found plenty to eat...and drinks were always offered by wandering drink servers...

You can also have dinner here now...for come 6:00PM tablecloths are spread over tables and a more intimate atmosphere enhances this room's function as an alternative restaurant. Four other things I like about the SENSATION's food service....TWO late night buffets....the late supper style midnight buffet...usually set up in the FANTASY Dining Room (and you WILL sit where the waiter brings you...though this tiny bit of regimentation if the ONLY thing I find aboard a Carnival ship that really chafes...) And the hours too early for sun-up buffet at 1:30AM where breakfasty foods predominate...AND I like being able to get pizza at any hour of the night or day and yes, I do appreciate the possibility to order some food in the cabin....though I don't remember the last time I ordered food to be served in my cabin...(hey I sleep in there...I don't like crumbs in my bed...!!!) You aren't paying for caviar here, but how often do you open a tin of beluga at home?.. SO...about the food....it ISN'T "fancy" and it may not be fine but it IS good enough and there is LOTS of it and even more importantly, it is served graciously with plenty of smiles, so dig in! Remember how many people the ship's kitchens feed every day and the time available to prepare and serve it, the fare you paid, and you should be as impressed as I am and will agree that Carnival passengers are generally well fed and no one goes hungry!!

First timers are usually thrilled with the parades of singing and dancing waiters... I think the dining room staff work awfully hard doing what they signed on to do...wait tables...If you are not a first timer...you might think I have a point...so take pity on them when they are required to interrupt their work to give passengers a song and dance...though paying out all those salaries to dancers I wonder why Carnival thinks the waiters need do that....I think the food department thinks part of a waiter's job is to sing and dance...I disagree with that concept...I always thought a waiter's job was to take your order and bring your food...Leave the singing and dancing to others...

Think of it....there must be SOME moment of the night (or early morning?) When EVERY last passenger is asleep....think of it...as many as 2,594 passengers sawing ZZZZs all at once! With her LOWER bed capacity of 2,044 passengers and all those upper and sofa berths this ship has a LOT of cabins! There are suites with private balcony, demisuites (it seems that everyone but Carnival thinks of them as minisuites...), standard insides and standard outsides... Minimum rooms are fitted with upper and lower berths...and are just adequate... and I don't find them very good choices unless money is a very important concern...Standard cabins....which at some 190 square feet for outsides and 185 for insides are the biggest in this segment of the market... are neither elegantly or luxuriously furnished...they have a lot of hard surfaces and heavy duty carpeting, they are designed to stay and look clean despite VERY heavy use. But there is plenty of storage space for all your clothes as well as all your purchases aboard and ashore... The bathrooms though are VERY good! The shower compartments in every bathroom are LARGE and the water pressure is wonderful...always a delight shipboard. There's a TV in every cabin but it didn't seem to show anything I wanted to watch...(Carnival doesn't want you to buy a ticket to come aboard and watch TV and I think they're right!) Get out of your cabin and have fun...When you come back to the cabin you have your choice..of course...of your beds arranged as twins in an "L" shape or in a king size version...as all lowers can be...but BEWARE....in the KING version... one person MUST climb over the other to get out if the one nearer the porthole wants or needs to get out of bed first...Want something better?

Take one of the twenty six 226 square foot minisuites, located way up top on Verandah Deck. Each has its own small balcony, is much better furnished and decorated than the standard, which I repeat, are very adequate for the short duration of a Carnival cruise...but I'm not likely to want a month in one of them...they're just not my style...For more money you can get one of the twenty-eight suites though don't expect to get much of a tan on your private balcony, for these apartments are located within the ship's hull... these suites are each about 350 square feet of space including a decent sized private verandah....there's a fair sized sitting area...just right for private lounging or entertaining...

Who Goes
Sooner or later EVERYONE who cruises sails on Carnival..or one of its family of cruise lines....and maybe they should...The SENSATION pleases people of all ages...you'll find people from 90 days to 90+ years of age here..Remember that fleetwide about 30% of the passengers are under 35 years of age.. Kids love this ship and parents always appreciate the chance to drop off their young and know that they will be well looked after at Camp Carnival...

This year the SENSATION sails from Tampa every Saturday at 4:00PM for Grand Cayman, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel and New Orleans...an interesting variation on the typical Western Caribbean itinerary...and remember, this itinerary has THREE "Fun Days at Sea"...two of them on the way back to Tampa so you sun fans ought not to get TOO burned straightaway!

Did you read my review of the FANTASY and how I mentioned those who expected the FANTASY sisters to be schlock at sea? Tackola on the waves? I remind you....THEY WERE WRONG!! These are marvelous, amazing ships....big for me, impersonal for me, too...and not my style socially or intellectually (bookish, jaded snob that I am) and not a place you're going to have to dodge a performance or a tape of the opera...but what a ship this is! Don't expect her to cater to your every whim...she simply couldn't do that for one person... keep in mind how many people the SENSATION carries every week. ..and of how hard everyone here works to please YOU....Carnival carries about 20,000 people every week..so...who can be more than a number here? Who should be more than a number here??? So just breathe deeply, let it out slowly, let em do it their way and let them amuse you THEIR way....they're damn good at it! There is always something doing here! Enjoy yourself...Carnival DOES have the fun...it's doesn't pretend to be in the same class as that five star city hotel you really don't want to stay in...and it is not a classy, high end resort, but that's not what you wanted when you booked the SENSATION!

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