View the entire Carnival Sensation & Nassau photograph set.It all started only a month or two earlier when a friend and his wife offered this trip to me as a 30th birthday gift. I could not refuse such an awesome gesture, just as Chris could not refuse when I invited him to join me as my cabin mate. Mom sent me information on places she visited in Nassau and I read about the ship online. The Fantasy-class cruise ship Carnival Sensation IMO 8711356 first entered service in 1993 and was refit in 2008–2009. With a length of 855 feet and beam of 103 feet, Carnival Sensation has 13 decks, a standard crew compliment of 920 and room for up to 2,634 passengers. I get my first good look at the vessel as we approach Port Canaveral Terminal 5, park and walk to the entrance. The customs and check-in process was quick and painless, though my belt set off the damn metal detector as always. The Carnival Cruise Lines agent at the counter was extremely friendly and informative, the perfect way to start a relationship with a new customer. Before I knew it, we were through the gangplank, greeted by the ship's crew with smiles and maps. Since the ship's Deck 7 (Empress Deck) docking port is used at Port Canaveral, all we had to do was turn right and take the long, straight port corridor aft to my quarters: interior cabin E-220. It was larger than I expected with plenty of room for two people, including what I thought was a spacious bathroom and shower. Anxious to find a good place to stand, we made our way above deck for our departure. We first ended up at the Deck 14 (Sun Deck) forward lookout and took some pictures. From there I saw a better location a few decks below, one that would end up being my de facto post during the voyage. After a bit of searching, we found the Deck 11 (Verandah Deck) forward lookout above the ship's main bridge. The departure began shortly after 1620 EST with our backing away from the terminal and coming about in the West Turning Basin. The trip through Canaveral Barge Canal is filled with interesting things to see and photograph, especially since it borders Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Numerous ships were docked along the way including US Coast Guard USCGC Vigilant WMEC-617, US Army USAV El Caney LCU 2017 and my personal favorite, NASA's two Solid Rocket Booster recovery ships MV Liberty Star IMO 7925302 and MV Freedom Star IMO 7925314. They had recently completed recovery operations for STS-133, the 39th and final mission of Space Shuttle Discovery. Once clear of land, we move southeast through the seamark buoy-lined Port Canaveral channel and then into the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. By this point, all the other passengers who came above deck have long since moved to the pool, buffets and shops. I think it is perfect—the open sea, no noise except the wind and water, no people except Chris and me. This was the number one aspect of the cruise I appreciated the most. I never imagined I would be able to enjoy the exterior decks of the ship without anyone around, or be social and participate in the ongoing events at the lounges, casino and clubs. As I wanted to spend time appreciating the unpainted and uncarpeted areas of the ship, I was pleased that I had the option to do both. After over three hours of wandering the ship, I had a cheeseburger and returned to the cabin. It was then I found a reason to use the television during the rest of the trip. Channel 14 displays maps of our position at various altitudes along with our coordinates, course, speed, wind data and time. Channel 15 is the view from a forward facing camera accompanied by big band, swing and jazz music. Sharp-eared listeners will notice that mixed in with the Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra standards are occasional big band covers of pop songs. I had earlier heard a song that got my attention but ended before I could identify it. This time while sitting and reading the Fun Times daily schedule of events left in the room with the first of our towel animals, it was clearly a swing cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" playing. Our nightly scheduled dinner was at Table 310 in the Deck 8 Ecstasy Dining Room at 2015; we suited up and were off. I figured this experience might be, well, unfortunate, but our tablemates all turned out to be very nice people. There were two women sailing to get away from it all, a mother and daughter (who currently lives in Tallahassee for school) enjoying a short vacation together, two teenaged girls who wound up only joining us the first night and my party. I ordered the Black Tiger (Penaeus monodon) shrimp cocktail and a grilled flatiron steak with vegetables and potatoes. Like my overall impression of all the food on the ship, everything was acceptable but not spectacular or particularly noteworthy. Our waiter was a pleasant gentleman who always remembered my name and led the other staff in a rendition of "Happy Birthday" when they surprised me with a slice of Key lime pie with a candle in it. I had earlier been a little astonished to find "LGBT Meet (Unsupervised)" in the Fun Times scheduled for 2300. After drinking some of the wine we brought—one 250 ml or smaller bottle of wine or champagne is permitted per person—and wandering around some more, we checked out the event. When we entered the Michelangelo Lounge, we found it filled with elderly people who had been apparently enjoying karaoke. A young man quickly approached us and looked relieved to see others around his age. Only four or five others showed up, but once they got on stage and the friendly Cruise Director James Charlton arrived, it was an amusing gathering. With the other younger crowd at Kaleidoscope completely lame, we hung out with the guys we met at Michelangelo's, eventually dancing in the Sensation Boulevard corridor to the rock tunes of a cover band called Music Alterr. By 0130, I was back at the Deck 11 forward lookout enjoying the darkness of night and spotting another ship's lights in the distance. Having been up for nineteen hours and with a busy day in port quickly approaching, it was time to return to the cabin. The bed was comfortable and I quickly fell asleep to the soft rocking back and forth of the ship. Getting up shortly after the ship's docking at noon, we went outside to find ourselves surrounded by the beautiful blue waters of the bay around Prince George Wharf, Port of Nassau. Compared to the rainy and overcast day prior, the mostly sunny skies and 79° F temperature were welcome. The forward lifts are the only public ones on board that go down to Deck 3, the location of our disembarkation at 1345. Prior to this trip, quite a few people told me that local vendors wait around and mob those coming ashore from cruise ships. Perhaps we missed the earlier rush around 1200 when anyone with a shore excursion or desire to spend a full day touring the island would have left, but only a few taxis and one colorfully dressed individual approached us. Passing through Festival Place and finding no customs or security, we went straight to Woodes Rodgers Walk and headed west along the shore. No first visit would be complete without a stroll through the uncomfortably narrow aisles of the Straw Market. The original famous bazaar was destroyed by fire in 2001 and this temporary location will be replaced when the new, larger market building is completed sometime this year. Señor Frog's was pretty much a loud, dirty shithole filled with younger people already quite intoxicated. Of course, I had to try an overpriced foot-long margarita while there and was surprised to find it tasted really good. Moving away from the throngs of people, we continued along West Bay Street past the British Colonial Hilton and found a secluded spot on the water that had a great view of the Paradise Island Lighthouse (1817) and ships docked at Prince George Wharf. Heading back east, the section of West Bay Street near the port was far livelier with shops, restaurants and bars. Walking through Prince George Plaza to see what was there, we came across a little place called 2 Coconuts Daiquiri and Burger Bar. It was almost empty and we decided to sit at the bar, have a drink and chat with the bartender, who turned out to be one of the owners. Knowing many people who rave about sodas made with real sugar, I tried some Coca-Cola and found it surprisingly different, more crisp and refreshing. It was particularly good with rum. After our fill of drinks, we migrated to Rawson Square and sat on a bench in the park. There were a number of local sites worth visiting nearby, but with the good light fading and the chill out mood of the trip thus far, we made our way back to 2 Coconuts. We spent the next four hours at 2 Coconuts, enjoying each others company and getting to know a few of the locals that arrived at the bar. It was a great chance to socialize and interact with some real down to earth Bahamians. Chris and I really hit it off was one of the guys, whose name I unfortunately cannot remember, so we left the bar and drove around with him pointing out landmarks from a local's perspective. Although vehicles drive on the left side of the road, there was a fairly even mixture of left and right side drive automobiles in Nassau. Our new friend's car was a left side drive, creating a wild perspective for me in the front passenger seat while on the same side as opposing traffic. About an hour later, he needed to get home to his girlfriend who he somewhat blew off to hang with us, so we thanked him and got out a few blocks from the ship. It may only have been 2300 when we got back aboard, but it had been a long day (of drinking) and it felt a lot later. As we had also missed the night's formal dinner, the next priority was to find an open restaurant. You can probably imagine our glee coming across the Mexican buffet. Suffice it to say, we tore it up. Returning to the the Deck 11 forward lookout, I enjoy the quiet night and spend some time watching the really drunk people below stumble back to the ship. It is 64° F and mostly clear with light 9 mph winds. I head back to the cabin a few minutes to 0100 and take some photographs of the long corridor devoid of people before heading to bed. I was awakened suddenly to the sound of loud hammering and banging. No one else on board including Chris seem to notice the awful racket going on during the ship's departure from port at 0600, but it was maddening to me half asleep, half intoxicated. I move a chair in front of the closet doors to keep them from banging and eventually fall back asleep to the pulsing of the engines. The final full day of the trip started around 1000 telling Chris about my early morning wakeup call and turning on the television to Channel 15 to see nothing but blue water ahead. The day was chock full of planned activities and entertainment, but I once again elected to instead roam the ship, take pictures and enjoy the time at sea. During the course of the day, I tried food from several eateries including a grilled Reuben sandwich, pepperoni pizza and another cheeseburger. The seas were noticeably choppier this day, which resulted in amusing moments of moving in a zigzag pattern to walk in a straight line down a corridor without bumping into the bulkhead or other people. For the final formal dinner, I had the shrimp cocktail, crab cakes and veal parmigiana. This was certainly the best of the meals I had on Carnival Sensation. The ship was due to arrive back at Port Canaveral early Sunday morning and our scheduled departure was set for 0715. Chris and I enjoyed our last night taking a final walk of the ship's decks from bow to stern, which we know well by now, and standing watch on the Deck 11 forward lookout. In the darkness off our port side, we could see some lights in the distance that I figure must be the Miami–Fort Lauderdale area. The service we experienced was great, definitely worth the $10 per person per day charge automatically billed to my account for the turnover service, waiters and other staff. As well, the automatic 15% gratuity attached to beverage purchases was always under the $1 tip I would have left if paying with cash. I had nothing to dispute on the final bill of $110.13, which included two $5.65 credits and no charge for our calls for room service. Overall, I can think of only three negatives throughout the entire trip. One, with a ten-hour drive to port and back, three days onboard was not enough time; I will consider a four or seven day itinerary whenever I cruise again. Two, the ship has a surprising lack of trash receptacles despite Carnival's vocal anti-littering policy and ample signage to that effect. Three, there is a "Behind the Fun" tour offered of the bridge, engineering and other crew-only spaces but it costs $55 per person and photographic equipment of any kind is strictly prohibited "for security reasons." I would have paid for the tour if I could take pictures. Leaving the ship was as easy as boarding, few queues and very orderly. The customs agent looked at our documents for only a second before wishing us well and sending us on our way. My first cruise was an unqualified success and I am very lucky to have such great friends. Although it appears I did not win a free seven-day cruise following the completion of an online satisfaction survey, I will definitely consider Carnival again in the future.
Having left home so early in the morning, the excitement of the adventure ahead only started to hit me while crossing the Bennett Causeway on SR 528. From there I spotted cruise ships in the distance directly ahead and the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building to the north. This would be my first vacation on a cruise ship and by now, I was ready to arrive, check-in and get aboard.