BAHAMAS | CARIBBEAN
AUGUST 2016 | SEPTEMBER & DECEMBER 2017
My first Carnival cruise was on the Holiday in 1995 on a weekend cruise from Los Angeles to Ensenada and a sea day. Technically, I did sail on Carnival's first new-build, the Tropical, as Pulmantur's Ocean Dream, but that's a different chapter.
From my experience, there are two sides to Carnival. The under five day cruise and those six and more. Actually, four sides - shorter and longer cruises and Carnival's older versus newer ships. Five days or less, it's party-time. For example, the weekend jaunts invite the wild and crazy and can get messy at points, and to that point, it's why Carnival succeeds (and why I've surrendered taking a weekend cruise.)
The Sensation is and older ship - one of eight Fantasy Class ships built in the early 90's. They include the Fantasy, Ecstacy, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Elation and Paradise (originally launched as a non-smoking ship - look for the painted over butt with a cross over it on the hull.) These ships are unique with Carnival as they were all built in Helsinki, Finland, by then shipyard Kvaerna Masa (now STX.) Italy's Fincanteri has built every Carnival ship since then. Today, Joe Farcus is no longer the Chief Interior Designer ("Farchitecture"), stepping down after the Magic was delivered. From engineering standpoint, only the Elation and Paradise have an azipod propulsion configuration.
Fantasy was first, and at 70,000 tons, she was big for 1990 and in direct competition with Royal Caribbean's Sovereign Class ships at 73,000 tons. Sovereign of the Seas was the largest ship ever constructed at the time, since the 1938 built Queen Elizabeth, and held that title until 1995, when the Sun Princess was launched at 77,000 tons. While Carnival has kept all of these fleet-mates in operation under their own brand, Royal has downloaded the Sovereign and Monarch to sister company Pulmantur, its Spanish partner.
Besides, the Sensation, I've sailed on The Ectasy (remember, she was the ship that caught fire sailing out of the port of Miami), and the Imagination. Rumor is Carnival spent a bit more on the Imagination than her sisters employing upgraded materials and decor.
In her own respect, the Sensation is sensational. I hedged using the word sensational but for what really is an entry level operation, she delivers a solid cruise experience. I believe at this point all of the Fantasy ships have gone through a regeneration of enhancements, and refits. Scraped down to the bare metal with many balcony cabins being tacked onto the superstructure, their lives have been extended - high capacity vessels with roughly 2,200 passengers thanks to 98 new balcony cabins. On the Paradise, an additional 22 new suites and cabins were recently added forward, up top, where on her sisters, you'll find the mini golf park. Talk about squeezing pennies - that's what Carnival does.
What I like about the Sensation starts with the Serenade deck aft. An adults only spot on the stern with a couple of hot tubs and loungers. Deck space is awkward but usable. Note, these are the last ships built with lifeboats up up top - Deck Ten, the Lido Deck, so there's really no promenade. Today, the law is lifeboats must be no more than 43 feet above the waterline (however Queen Mary 2, as an ocean liner, was able to beat the rule.) Sea days are almost prohibitive as far as finding a deck chair and the pool gets absurdly overwhelming since it's shared by adults and kids. Mid-week cruises are a bit calmer throughout the ship, with less kids, and craziness, not that I mind kids.
I like the lounges on Promenade deck in that are all very unique and separate from one another (like the old days.) Most of these lounges are busiest at night but offer a nice, quiet and cozy respite during the day from what can be a very busy ship. The aft-most lounge, Plaza, is really pretty set off in a Roman motif with columns, busts of Grecian Gods and a nice soft color palette. Did Joe Farcus design this?
I also spend time in the Oak Room, the ships library and The Alchemy Bar and Lounge, which fronts the Plaza Lounge aft. It does get busy around dinner hour thanks to its easy access to the Ectasy Dining Room, just one flight down.
I've matured and so has Carnival. I've sailed on longer cruises on the Carnival's Spirit and Breeze. I really like them both and hope to sail on the Horizon soon. If you're new to cruising, or just like to have some serious fun, Carnival delivers just that. Ten-plus years ago, I sailed on plenty of Carnival earning my dues as a Platinum VIFP.
The reality is service has been sliced and chopped. No real stateroom service on embarkation - day meaning no turn down, and no room service. Dining room service has also been minimized as today's demographic likes faster service and doesn't care about having a table cloth or not. Meal time seems rushed. However, Carnival's longer cruises on their new ships are more refined just better. Remember the four sides of Carnival.
If you don't know what cruising was really like back in the day, what you get today is probably a good thing. These Fantasy Class ships, the Sensation, are approaching thirty-years of service. I remember sailing on the Imagination in 2003 when the standards were much higher. Guests were more demanding, more particular because we knew what to expect.
A few more points. Carnival's pizza is still really great. The staff and crew succeed at making one feel at home on board (the company's new dictate demanding crew learn your name.) The atrium is a great place for people-watching and engaging with nightly, live entertainment and there are areas on these ships that retain an almost sedate and comfortable stature (day-time) - you just have to find them.
I will always be happy on any ship, anytime, going anywhere. It's in my blood. For the younger crowd, Carnival does a great job and offers super deals from time-to-time.
Do your homework with Carnival, or any line, or ship, you've never sailed on. I am amazed with some of the complaints I've heard from people, so obvious they missed the boat when researching their first, or next, cruise. Carnival's new class of ships are exceptional in their own right and be prepared to sail with a fun-loving bunch of people. Remember, "Carnival Has The Fun..."