Editors Note: Be sure not to miss your chance to win a $100 gift card at the end of this post!
“Hey girls. It’s time to wake up,” I whispered as I gently nudged my five and three-year-old girls awake.
“Daddy, why are we getting up so early?”
“We’re going on a trip!” I said.
“We are?!? Where are we going?”
“I can’t tell you. It is a surprise,” I said with a smile.
And so it started. Both girls jumped out of their beds, grinning from ear to ear, excited to see where this surprise journey would take them. Holly and I were excited too, not just because this would be the girls’ first time on an airplane. This would be our first time on a cruise, as we headed on a short weekend trip to Nassau, Bahamas aboard the Carnival Sensation.
Having never cruised before, we didn’t quite know what to expect. Our recent vacations have pretty much included us plopping our backsides down on a beach chair, sipping on tropical drinks, and eating entirely too much at all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. How would we like cruising? Would there be plenty to do? What would the room be like? We were all excitement and a little bit worried as we headed out the door, figuring that – even if we didn’t like it – we’d only be gone for three days. How bad could it be?
Getting to the port
The Carnival Sensation sets sail from Port Canaveral, Florida and travels to the Bahamas twice a week – once for 3 days and the other for 4. If you are coming from out-of-state, you will likely fly into Orlando International Airport. Rather than taking the airport shuttle for about $160 each way, we rented a cheap car and drove it to Port Canaveral. We were able to drop the rental car off at Park Port Canaveral located just 5 minutes from the ship for only $7.95 per day, which saved us over $100 on the airport shuttle. From there, we took their free shuttle service to the ship. Besides a forgetting my three-year-old’s shoes and a little misunderstanding with the rental car company, getting to the ship was a breeze.
Boarding the Carnival Sensation
“Are we getting on that huge boat?” asked my five-year-old as we pulled into the port terminal.
“Yes, we are!” I beamed, awe-struck by the sheer size of the ship itself. Again, having never been on a boat this big, I was impressed – especially knowing that the Sensation is one of the smaller ships in Carnival’s fleet.
Getting onto the ship was easy peasy. There were helpful attendants everywhere wearing Carnival shirts and nametags, and we were glad that we opted for the VIP Check-In. For a small fee, you are able to check-in a couple of hours early – allowing you to get your relax on even quicker. Within 20 minutes, we had our “Sign & Sail Cards” and were headed onto the ship and to our room.
We arrived in our room and found it to be tidy and cozy, and we ended up loving this little home. Each night, we returned to find it stocked with thoughtful little treats. Whenever we needed anything or had questions, our room steward Jonathan immediately hooked us up complete with a kind and helpful attitude.
Activities and entertainment
After getting changed, we headed out toward the pool deck to find many people already relaxing and having a good time. Unfortunately, my daughter pinched her finger in a door on the way out there. As I hopelessly tried to console her, a nice young “Junior Hostess” named Lubrov (I think…screaming three-year-olds make me bad with names) came over, spoke to her, stroked her hair, and – remarkably – got her to laugh. Not only did I appreciate this gesture, but I found exceptional service like this to be a hallmark of the Carnival Sensation.
We spent most of the day by the pool. Since this is only a 3-day tour, there are a lot of local Florida residents aboard the ship, relaxing for a long weekend away from work. Their care-free attitude, along with the music pumping and the liquor flowing, made for quite the party atmosphere. Here is what a middle-aged frat party looks like 🙂
Don’t get me wrong; if the kids weren’t with me, I’d have been right in the middle of that pool chanting for people to jump in as well. However, Holly and I thought it was high-time to find a more family friendly atmosphere. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find as the Carnival Sensation has a water park located on the top deck.
Our kids absolutely loved the water park – and so did we! The water slides were fast, the atmosphere was fun, and it makes for a genuinely quiet retreat for those with children. Besides that, you could get a great tan just lounging on the top deck. If you really want some peace and quiet, you can always head for he adults-only deck to grab a frozen drink as well.
Along with fun in the sun, the Sensation has great stage shows, live music, poolside contests and classes, and activities like bingo. If you’re like me, you’ll also appreciate the on-ship casino. I had a blast as I bellied-up to the craps table, cheering on my fellow cruisers.
Fear not, peeps. I didn’t bring my kids to the casino. The ship has a great little activity that they call “Camp Carnival.” Our kids loved this place. Essentially, the ship provides free childcare with “camp counselors” who are exceptionally kind and well-trained. There, the kids participated in activities, watched a few movies, and even had their own “Embarkation Party.” My daughter even won a raffle for a cute little stuffed animal! For those who want to stay out late, you can even pay a small fee to keep the kids there until 1 A.M. Frankly, our kids had so much fun it was hard to get them to leave.
As far as the food goes, I thought that the Carnival Sensation had excellent options. They serve generous portions, and – for the most part – everything I tasted was excellent. In fact, it was much better than many of the all-inclusive resort meals I’ve had. As a vegetarian, I was also happily surprised to find that I had absolutely no issues finding great things to eat.
While all the eateries around the ship are good, where the Carnival Sensation really shines is in the dining room. The food itself was delicious, however it was the atmosphere and the service that really stood out. Our waiter’s name was Guillermo, but he went by Mr. G. He impressed our kids with several magic tricks, while impressing us with his excellent service, fun attitude, and kind heart. The entire staff in the dining room made each meal special, going so far as to put on performances each night to the delight of the diners. Our kids loved dancing around the room to the song “Hot, Hot, Hot,” and we loved to see their smiling faces. I was even embarrassed one evening, as the staff “shut-down” the entire dining room to lead a boisterous rendition of “Happy Birthday” to me. It is a moment I won’t soon forget!
Nassau itself was great fun. The weather was nice, the city was interesting, and we had a very relaxing day at the beach. Rather than shell out the money for an excursion, we decided to hit the free public beach instead – which is about a fifteen minute walk from the dock. I don’t want to skimp on the Nassau info, so will write more about Nassau in a future post.
Would I go cruising again? The answer is a definitive “HELLS TO THE YES!” (We are already scouting cruises for 2015, and our kids are begging to go back!) Whether you are looking for a great party or for a fun family vacation, the Carnival Sensation has it all. While the ship itself is great fun, what really made our trip superb was the people who worked there. From our steward Jonathan to our server Mr. G, from the junior hostess “Lubrov” to Cindy Rabbit in Customer Service, from the craps dealers to the entire dining room staff – every single person on that ship provided an exceptionally wonderful and memorable experience for our family. Personally, I’ve always measured customer service by the standards set by Disney. From now on, I will measure it based on the staff of the Carnival Sensation.
Speaking of cruising, we wanted to help give you the chance to board a Carnival Cruise as well. So, we are giving away a $100 gift card redeemable for Carnival, Southwest Airlines, or Amazon. You can enter using the Rafflecopter widget below!
What are your thoughts? Have you ever cruised before? Would you cruise again? Fire away in the comments below!