Carnival Sensation's onboard atmosphere is one of endless fun and expectant excitement. Everyone is trying to pack in as much amusement and downtime as they possibly can in four or five days (the ship is dedicated to short cruise itineraries). It's not frantic, just fun. And everyone's got everyone else's back, whether it's enthusiastically dancing in the aisles during nightly karaoke or loudly cheering on cruisers who have volunteered to participate in any number of interactive activities -- it's hard to feel embarrassed onstage when the entire audience is hootin' and hollerin' for you.
And your fellow cruisers aren't the only friendly faces you'll see throughout your sailing. The crew onboard Carnival Sensation are genuinely friendly and enjoy having conversations with passengers. From the guy taking our plates away in the buffet asking us what we did that morning to our Your Time Dining waiter (we asked for him every night) asking us about life back home and telling us about his dental work in Cozumel that day (!), everyone was personable and had a ready smile.
Yes, the bar service wasn't always the quickest and we were, more than once, told an activity printed on the day's schedule was a "mistake" (particularly when related to free spa events), but generally service was spot on throughout the cruise.
With all the good, Carnival Sensation is by no means a perfect cruise and many of its physical limitations can be a bit frustrating. Built in 1993 during the heyday of you-can't-get-there-from-here shipbuilding, you always have to remember to go all the way forward or aft on a cabin deck to get anywhere on decks 7 or 8. It's exasperating to run upstairs from your cabin for dinner on Deck 8 only to realize you're on the wrong end of the ship and you can't just walk across to the other side of Deck 8. And try not to forget which deck number correlates with the names of decks -- like Empress or Upper Deck -- as the elevators list the first letter of the name of the deck and not the number.
We'd also like to forewarn any serious sports lovers that there's no sports bar on Carnival Sensation, just a few public TVs here and there that can be tuned to ESPN (the only sports outlet other than the standard broadcast channels). If missing a game is going to put a dent in your vacation experience, Sensation might not be right for you.
Big theater productions are also lacking on Sensation. On our four-night cruise, we only had two big stage productions. Both were good and we would much rather have seen a third one than have only the audience-participation Love & Marriage show as a choice. And don't get us started on bingo. We like a good bingo game as much as the next person, but it's not a nighttime big theater activity.
But if you don't have a lot of vacation time and need a short, fun getaway that's laid-back, friendly and affordable, it's pretty hard to go wrong with a four- or five-night break on Carnival Sensation.
The vast majority of passengers on Carnival Sensation are from the United States, with a smattering of people from Canada and even fewer from farther afield. A good percentage has driven to the port from Florida and surrounding states. You'll see lots of families, as well as groups celebrating (think milestone birthdays, bachelorette parties), and ages run the gamut from babies in strollers to seniors belting out Frank Sinatra songs during karaoke. You'll find a diversity of backgrounds, and everyone from working class folk to professionals. Overall, people are friendly, and on the ship to have a good time.
Daytime: Carnival keeps its dress code casual by day, with shorts, T-shirts and bathing suits the norm.
Evening: Fairly casual (though shorts and tees are typically replaced by long pants and nicer tops) except on the single "cruise elegant" night, when men are encouraged to don long pants and collared shirts -- we saw plenty of men in full suits. We saw women dressed up in everything from their Sunday best to more than a few not-appropriate-for-church ensembles.
Not permitted: Cutoff jeans and swimwear are never permitted in the main dining rooms for dinner.
For more information, visit Cruise Line Dress Codes: Carnival.
Fun and friendly with a laid-back vibe; highlights include waterslides, a singalong piano bar, nightly Punchliner Comedy Club and mini-golf; carries some 2,500.
Elation is the seventh of Carnival's eight Fantasy-class vessels (debuting in 1998), and went through a significant upgrade in 2009.
Smaller ship with a fun and family-friendly atmosphere: highlights include short warm-weather itineraries, a waterslide and mini-golf; carries about 2,500 people.
Fun, friendly vibe with a packed lineup of daily activities, nightly comedy, energetic stage shows, silly pool deck fun, and a multi-slide waterpark.
One of Australians' favourite cruise ships -- like a true Aussie, it's laid-back, fun and friendly -- from crew, to passengers and the atmosphere.
Lively and fun with a dizzying art-through-the-centuries decor, nightly standup comedy, two waterslides, four pools, and lots of bars and lounges; can carry about 2,500.
Fun and friendly with lots of pool-centric fun, a multi-slide waterpark, nightly comedy, and 16 lounges and bars; spends much of year in Australia.
Unpretentious vibe with pool-centric fun and water slide, plus Hairy Chest and Mr. and Mrs. Conquest contests; also 11 bars and 9 eateries; carries about 3,500.
Lively entertainment and activities include nightly stand-up comedy, high-energy Playlist Production stage shows, twister water slide, and a nonstop schedule of daily activities.
Fun, family-friendly ship focused on Carnival signatures like the high-energy Playlist Production shows, nightly comedy, RedFrog Pub and line dancing deck parties.
Silly poolside games, piano bar sing-alongs and PG- and R-rated stand-up comedy give this smallish mega-ship its fun vibe; also features the RedFrog Pub.
Fun, friendly vibe focusing on Carnival signatures like the Punchliner Comedy Club, gut-busting Guy's Burger Joint and cocktail-focused Alchemy Bar; holds about 3,500.
Fun, laid-back and friendly; highlights include nightly comedy, high-energy stage shows, twister water slide and the popular RedFrog Pub; holds about 3,500.
Can hold upward of 4,000 passengers; features indoor/outdoor pool with retractable dome, Twister water slide, mini-golf and just one extra-fee restaurant.
Fun, friendly vibe; features Guy Fieri's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, family-friendly and adult stand-up comedy, nightly karaoke, water park and mini-golf.
Holds about 4,000; highlights include water slides, the RedFrog Pub, two-bathroom family cabins that hold up to five, a ropes course and Carnival's signature fun.
Nonstop activities and attractions include top deck water park and ropes course, 4D Thrill Theater and nightly standup comedy; can hold up to 4,700 cruisers.
Fun and friendly with nightly stand-up comedy and short, energetic stage shows, plus a calorie-packed burger joint from celeb chef Guy Fieri; holds about 3,500.
Holds a bit more than 4,000 passengers; offers a waterpark, suspended-in-midair recumbent bike thrill ride, ropes course and the first IMAX cinema at sea.
Carnival's newest megaship, holding some 4,000 passengers, launches April 2018; highlights include new barbeque/brewery and Teppanyaki restaurants, an IMAX movie theater, waterpark, beer brewery and ropes course.
A completely reimagined ship, Carnival Sunrise is Carnival Triumph transformed with new venues, entertainment options, and a whole new Fun Ship look.