Fodor’s Expert Review

Ship Overview

Carnival Cruise Lines
Cruise StyleMainstream
Ship SizeLarge

Insider Take

Best For People Who Want

Non-stop entertainment, lively casinos, extensive deck space for sunning, large, if very pink, facilities for fitness/spa and children’s activities, large cabins, good food, and very informal service. Especially recommended for families, singles in groups and first time cruisers.Read More

Onboard Experience

Identical in all but decor, Carnival Sensation is the third of the eight Fantasy-class sister ships (Fantasy, Fascination, Ecstasy, Inspiration, Paradise, Imagination & Elation). These ships always seem to have something of interest going on, and thus are ideal for the up-and-at-’em style cruiser. Carrying 2,052 passengers, the ships are big enough to provide diverse entertainment, ample deck space for those whose idea of being entertained is basking in a warm sunshine glow, and separate facilities for passengers of all ages.

Having been launched in 1993, Carnival Sensation was chartered by the U.S. Government to aid in housing relief workers during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That was followed by an extensive refurbishment in March 2006. The ship is now sailing four and five day Bahamas cruises out of Port Canaveral.

In any case, this is an older ship, and as such one can expect to find bargain sailings on her, in many ways she feels like a brand new ship.

Ideal as it is for the sort of person who likes to have loads of activities planned, Sensation also offers lots of out-of-the-way places to read or just contemplate the sea. During summer cruises, however, when there are hundreds of kiddies aboard, quiet contemplation might become a luxury reserved for another ship.

Decor

Every Carnival ship, designed by fanciful designer Joe Farcus, has a unifying theme for the decor. The unifying idea behind Sensation’s interior decor is the senses, especially those affected by evocative works of art and/or phantasmagoric light shows – that is to say the focus is on anything that evokes an emotional response. You’ll find the the Kaleidoscope Dance Club with its rotating mirror balls, Michelangelo’s Lounge, the Club Vegas Casino, the Fantasia Lounge and Sensation Boulevard.

Cuisine

From the best pizza afloat (available 24 hours per day) to haute cuisine in the main dining room, Carnival really delivers on the food front.

Restaurants

Total Choice Dining provides for four dinner seatings in the main dining rooms, alternative Bistro dining every evening, and an increased number of service staff. Passengers are assigned a table for dinner in one of the two main dining rooms – The Fantasy Dining Room on Atlantic Deck, mid-ship, or the Pride Dining Room on Atlantic Deck, aft – at one of four seatings; 5:45 p.m. or 6:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. There are very few tables for two in either of the two main dining rooms; expect to dine with four, six, or eight fellow voyagers. Both dining rooms are named after future Carnival ships that at the time were only a part of the founder’s “imagination.”

You typically have a choice of six starters, a couple of salads, and six or seven main courses (pan-fried fillet of red snapper, sweet and sour shrimp, rack of New Zealand lamb and Beef Wellington). The menu also includes Spa Carnival selections for those trying to reduce their intake of calories, sodium, cholesterol, fat, or meat.

Additionally, the poolside Lido eateries are converted into Seaview Bistros between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. each evening, offering buffet dinner with no reservations or advance notice required. The informal Seaview Bar and Grill (T-shirts and shorts are OK) Restaurant on the Lido Deck offers both inside and poolside seating. All meals here are served buffet style, with open seating for all three meals.

Other alternative eating options include a 24-hour pizzeria, a complimentary sushi bar and 24 hour room service. The “Evolutions of Fun” upgrades started in 2007 will eventually add a coffee bar in the atrium and New York-style deli in the Lido restaurants, if they are not there already.

Service

Don’t expect formality. Indeed, expect wacky dances after dessert – and then to come back to your cabin to find that your cabin steward, cut up that he or she is, has left a towel folded to resemble a dog on your bed. The hi-jinx never stop!

Attire

On the two “formal” nights per week, most men wear a dark suit instead of tux. By day, nearly everyone wears shorts, T-shirt, sneakers/sandals, bathing suit, and a hat.

Overview

One of the oldest “Fantasy-class” Carnival ships (1991), fine for short inexpensive getaways but the age shows in decor.

Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer

Sophisticated “seen but not heard” service people; cabins with private verandas; mega-ship action; understated elegance in a low-key environment; no children; dozens of varieties of food.

Public Rooms

The ship consist of 10 decks with most of the public rooms concentrated on Atlantic, Promenade and Lido decks (decks 5, 6 and 7). The cabins are mostly concentrated on decks one through four; Riviera, Main, Upper (which is actually a lower deck 3) and Empress decks.

The ships centerpiece is their seven-deck high Grand Atrium, bathed in brass and glass and surrounded by carpet and wall decorations that are a mesmerizing labyrinth of blue, violet, purple and gold intertwining lines. In the heart is a large multi-colored lacquer sculpture that represents either a blooming flower or a nuclear mushroom frozen in time.

You can stroll on the “Sensation Boulevard”, or plop down into a soft banquette to ogle passers-by. The two-level, 1300-seat Fantasia Lounge at the front of the promenade presents live production shows, comedians, magicians, and passenger talent shows, with exemplary sight lines and good seating throughout.

The ship’s most fanciful decor is in such entertainment venues as the popular Touch of Class Piano bar featuring an enormous circular piano which doubles as a bar for those who like to sing along. You’ll also find a vibrant disco and cabaret lounge along the boulevard.

An upgrade scheduled for 2008 involves upgrades to the pool area, staterooms and some public rooms. Some of the following are complete: a snazzy new pool area with teak decking, new umbrellas, a tile “beach” for the pool water to lap against and a new thatched roof for the hot tub. The kids will rave about “Carnival waterworks,” the new water park featuring a 4-story tall and 300 foot long “Twister Water Slide.” Another slide is three side-by-side tubes 82 feet long. This is all part of a waterpark with all kinds of sprays and other devices to keep the kiddies cool and fresh. There’s also a new nine-hole miniature golf course. As of January 2008, this is almost complete.

As if that isn’t enough for the kids, “Camp Carnival” received a makeover, and the ship has new interconnecting staterooms for families.

The adults haven’t been left out; there will be a new “adults-only” area called “Serenity” with a deck of solid teak panels for soft cushioned loungers in sun or shady areas and two hot tubs.

New enhancements indoors include a coffee cafe with specialty coffees (for a price) but free pastries. A new art & photo gallery and the atrium bar will be in place. New sound and lighting systems have been installed in every public room, and the ship now has flat screen televisions in several places to keep up with sports and other vital information.

Other public areas include the Galleria shopping mall, the Virtual World arcade, and the ship’s photo gallery. Joe’s Cafe and Internet offers access for 75 cents per minute; for those who plan to spend more time on the computer, there are 100 minute packages available for $50 (50 cents per minute) and 250 minute packages for $100 (40 cents per minute).

Tipping

Carnival automatically adds $10.00 per person per day in gratuities to your Sail & Sign card unless you’re under two years old, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably not. This includes $3.60 for the stateroom steward; $5.50 for the Dining Room team, and $.90 for service in the alternative dining rooms. Visit the purser’s desk during the cruise to raise or lower this amount.

You may also prepay gratuities for all service personnel at a rate of $10.00 per person per day. On Cruises-to-Nowhere, gratuities of $10 per person per day must be prepaid.

A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Tip the maitre d’, room service, spa, casino and other staff as you deem fitting.

Entertainment

The prime entertainment venue is the 1,300 seat Fantasia Lounge theater, but karaoke draws big crowds to the Kaleidoscope Dance Club, while the Plaza Lounge offers a variety of dance-music combos from pop standards to even folk and country musicians. A variety of dance music is spinning nightly in the Michelangelo’s Lounge Disco. Regardless of what sort of music you like most, you’re pretty much assured of hearing it.

By day, there are bingo and Trivial Pursuit contests, not to mention such highbrow events poolside as the men’s hairy chest contest.

Cabins

Because they were built just before the shift toward lots of verandahs, just the 26 demi-suites (250 square feet) and 28 full suites (400 square feet) have balconies.

However, during 2008 all of the staterooms in the class of smaller Carnival ships will receive a facelift including new flat screen televisions, for example, a subtle change but one that lends a significantly different feel to the room while also adding a little extra space – which never hurts.

The cabins on these older ships always appeared spartan compared to the newer Carnival ships due to their lack of wooden desks and cabinetry. The colors, fabrics and linens will be upgraded, but they are still light on amenities (a color TV with CNN, telephone, radio, no hair dryer, and a basket of “free-sample” toiletries). They are roomy, however, among the largest in the cruise industry: inside measure 185 sq. ft, outside 190 sq. feet. Even in the minimum category inside or outside stateroom you’ll still enjoy ample space. Cabins for four and five are understandably popular with families, and go fast.

Oceanview staterooms and suites offer a mini bar, bathrobes, and fairly large bathrooms with a shower (with wand) and medicine cabinet. There are also 26 mini-suites (226 sq. feet plus 36 square foot private veranda) and 28 suites measuring 350 sq. feet with 71 sq. foot balconies.

Fitness/Spa

With no fewer than 12,000 sq. ft. devoted to fitness and spa facilities, these ships are a dream come true for those who like to keep in shape during their cruise. The “Evolutions of Fun” upgrades scheduled for 2008 will pay particular attention to the spa area by adding more elegance and amenities.

The gyms have a private trainer and 35 state-of-the-art exercise machines. There’s a day-long schedule of aerobics, and stretching yoga, and Pilates classes (usually around $10 each), as well as body composition analysis and personal training sessions, $75 for 60 minutes. There’s a fully jogging track and a volleyball court. Women who want to sunbathe topless will find secluded areas in which to do so.

Those who prefer to skip shore excursions and snorkel on their own can rent equipment for $26 for three days. The inescapable Steiner’s of London operates the ship’s spa, which offers lots of different kinds of massage – and pushes its beauty products rather more zealously than most passengers would prefer.

Children’s Facilities

Carnival’s celebrated Camp Carnival program offers a full schedule of supervised activities, from finger painting and singalongs for younger children to photography workshops, late-night movies, and pool parties for their older siblings. The ships’ 2,400-square foot “Children’s World” play areas are stocked with a computer lab, a climbing maze, an activity wall, and an assortment of toys, games and puzzles.

Ship Overview

The third ship in Carnival’s Fantasy-class, Carnival Sensation was launched in 1993. Although the ship has received numerous upgrades over the years, including the important addition of balconies to some ocean-view cabins and a secluded adults-only Serenity Deck, there is no word at this writing on whether the ship will be updated to feature Carnival’s “Fun Ship 2.0” upgrades. Carnival Sensation has two short cruises a week to the Bahamas from her home base of Port Canaveral, which is conveniently within driving distance of Florida’s Orlando airport and theme parks. Some of the three- and four-night itineraries include an overnight call in Nassau.

Bathed in fiber-optic light, glitzy Fantasy-class interiors added expansive six-deck atriums and a new dimension to the original superliner concept. To keep the fun going, these ships offer an almost wearying assortment of places to have a good time. As times and tastes have changed, the ships have evolved as well, with new lobby bars, dedicated club spaces for teens and tweens, miniature golf, and Internet centers. Even newer are Carnival’s WaterWorks water park and the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat, which increase the appeal of the older Fantasy-class vessels.

Only one level below the Lido deck, the indoor promenade connects major public rooms on a single deck, with only formal dining rooms, shops, and other small spaces one deck below. Large in size and ideal for a short itinerary, these ships have sprawling outdoor pool and sunning areas, but they can feel cramped when sailing at maximum capacity. Cabins provide calm oases from sensory overload. With the exception of Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, and Carnival Ecstasy, to which balconies were added to existing cabins, you’ll have to book a suite if you want the solitude of a private balcony.

The world’s largest cruise line—and one of the most widely recognized—originated its “Fun Ship” concept in 1972 and has been launching party-packed superliners with signature red funnels ever since. The line’s ever-growing fleet features entertainment and activities designed for passengers of all ages, from game shows and lip sync competitions to twisting waterslides and mini golf. These ships are a reliable choice for families as well as young singles and couples who want a vacation that won’t break the bank.

Nearly all onboard dining options are included in the fare, as are comedy and production shows, children’s programs, and use of state-of-the-art fitness centers. With some of the most comfortable accommodations at sea, large new ships are continuously added to the fleet and rarely deviate from a successful pattern, while older vessels are updated with popular features, such as the poolside BlueIguana Tequila Bar with an adjacent burrito cantina, the Red Frog Rum Bar that also serves Carnival’s own brand of Thirsty Frog Red beer, and Guy’s Burger Joint, created with Food Network star Guy Fieri.

  • 10 passenger decks
  • 2 dining rooms, buffet, ice cream parlor, pizzeria
  • Wi-Fi, safe, refrigerator (some)
  • 1 pool, children’s pool
  • fitness classes, gym, hot tubs, sauna, spa, steam room
  • 5 bars, casino, dance club, library, showroom, video game room
  • children’s programs
  • laundry facilities, laundry service
  • Internet terminal
  • no-smoking cabins

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

Pros
Cons
Central atriums are stunning when sunlight streams in through skylights
Surprisingly large libraries are ideal retreats for reading or playing board games
Freshly made pizza and calzones are available around the clock
Despite upgrades, the decor is still pretty gaudy
These are ships designed for partying, so quiet spots can be difficult to find
Sushi bars earn high marks for their complimentary creations, but sake costs extra

What to expect on board

Staterooms & Cabins

Layout
Bathrooms
Accessibility

Fantasy-class ships have a higher percentage of inside cabins than the fleet’s newer ships, and with the exception of Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, and Carnival Ecstasy, only the suite categories offer balconies. Every cabin has adequate closet and drawer–shelf storage, as well as bathroom shelves. Light-wood cabinetry and simple decor are the norm for all cabins, while suite embellishments add the convenience of a seating area and small refrigerator. In addition to the extra space, a whirlpool tub is a deluxe appointment in Penthouse suites. Inside cabins have ample room, and their curtained faux windows mimic those in the more expensive standard ocean-view accommodations. High-thread-count linens and plush pillows and duvets add a touch of luxury to all accommodations. Doors have been added to a limited number of adjacent cabins to create connecting accommodations on Fantasy-class ships, and lighting in the vanity/desk area has been improved on some. Bring your own hair dryer.

Extras include shower-mounted shampoo and bath gel dispensers and an array of sample toiletries, as well as fluffy towels. Bathrobes for use during the cruise are provided for all.

Twenty-two staterooms are designed for wheelchair accessibility.

Food & Drink

Food

Two formal restaurants serve open seating breakfast and lunch; dinner is served in two traditional assigned evening seatings or an open seating option. The casual Lido buffet with stations offers a variety of food choices (including a deli, salad bar, dessert station, and different daily regional cuisines); at night it becomes the Seaview Bistro for casual dinners. There’s also a pizzeria; rotisserie; poolside outdoor grills for burgers, hot dogs, and the trimmings; a specialty coffee bar and patisserie; a complimentary sushi bar; and 24-hour room service with a limited menu of breakfast selections, sandwiches, and snacks.

Entertainment

Only Elation and Paradise are scheduled to receive Carnival’s new bar features in 2014 and 2015 respectively. All have spirited piano bars and nightclubs offering music for dancing and listening. Production companies and guest entertainers performing in the show lounge, comedy clubs, karaoke, and deck parties are signature nighttime activities.

Spa & Fitness

Steiner Leisure operates the well-appointed spas that offer treatments including a variety of massages, body wraps, and facials for adults and teens; there are relaxation rooms where you can chill out before or after your appointment and complimentary steam rooms and saunas in men’s and women’s changing rooms. Salons offer tooth whitening in addition to hair and nail services.

QUICK FACTS

SHIP STATS
Entered Service
1993
Number of Cabins
1,028
Passenger Capacity
2,056(2,610 max)
Crew Members
920
Passengers to Crew Ratio
2.23
Gross Tons
70367
Width
103 feet
Length
855 feet
CRUISE LINE INFO
305/599–2600 or 800/227–6482

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