Ahoy! I just returned from my first cruise vacation with my best friends, where we were soaking in the rays and swimming in some of the bluest waters the Caribbean has to offer. From stunning sunsets in the middle of the ocean to snorkeling in a coral reef in Turks & Caicos, this cruise exceeded my expectations, and I am ready to start planning my next one!
I have to admit, this cruise vacation was my idea, but I was skeptical. Up until the cruise, I had an irrational fear of sailing on large boats, and I am prone to motion-sickness — I mean, I take Dramamine and wear Sea Bands in Disney and Universal just to tolerate even the most basic rides. Despite all of that, a cruise vacation is something Connor and I have talked about for a long time, and I finally agreed to try it out.
Planning the Cruise
One of the most important aspects in terms of travel to Connor and I is that we see as much of the world as possible, whenever possible. We always try to plan trips to new destinations whenever we have the opportunity, and planning this cruise was no different. After some research, we found a 5-day cruise through Carnival Cruise Line that lined up perfectly with the travel dates we wanted. The cruise was to the Eastern Caribbean, stopping in Nassau, Bahamas; Half Moon Cay, Carnival’s private island in the Bahamas; and Grand Turk, the capital of Turks & Caicos. The cruise would be leaving from Miami the day after my birthday, and we would return just days before Connor’s — happy birthday to us!
We reached out to some of our friends from college, who immediately agreed to come on the cruise with us. We decided to fly to Florida the day before the cruise, but the flights to Miami were ridiculously expensive (hello spring breakers). We opted to fly to Fort Lauderdale and take a car to Miami instead.
We booked a room at Hotel Riu Plaza Miami Beach, located right on Collins Ave. The hotel is a quick walk or ride away from restaurants and bars all along the strip, and beach access is a very short walk from the hotel property.
The last step in planning our vacation was choosing an excursion for the trip. Carnival’s website was informative, and the reviews from past cruise-goers were extremely helpful when it came to picking the best one! We decided to book a snorkeling and private beach excursion in Turks & Caicos — with hundreds of glowing reviews, we knew this was our top choice!
Note: We debated purchasing the Cheers! beverage program on the ship, which would have included all spirits and cocktails priced below $20, as well as sodas, coffee and other bottled beverages, for $51.95/day + an 18 percent gratuity added. We chose not to purchase this program, and we ended up saving money!
Tip: To avoid charges for water (water is only included when you are dining), bring a refillable water bottle on the trip!
Day 1 — Miami
After stopping at the hotel to drop off our bags, we headed to Dolce Italian for my birthday dinner! The food was absolutely amazing, and we certainly did not feel rushed as we dined through several courses of meals. I highly recommend trying the Caprese and the Sunday Gravy Pizza as appetizers, and the Lobster Ravioli for dinner.
Day 2 — Departing Miami
We woke up the morning of the cruise, packed our bags and headed to Market at EDITION for a delicious brunch. Try the Eggs Benedict, the Guava Cream Cheese Donut or the Cinnamon Bun — it was all so, so good.
After brunch, we headed to the Port of Miami where we checked our bags, checked into the cruise and boarded the ship. Check-in was relatively quick and easy, and before long, we found ourselves soaking in the sun on one of the top decks of the ship with drinks in our hands. One muster drill, a Dramamine pill and a couple of hours later, Carnival Sensation finally left port, setting sail for the Bahamas!
We were able to get into our rooms (which were all in a row!) not long after we boarded the ship. Our friends surprised us by having the room decorated for our birthdays and getting us a cake! They truly are the best! Our steward even made us a birthday cake out of towels and left us cards to help us kick off our celebration!
Day 3 — Nassau, Bahamas
Our first day off the ship was in Nassau, and we disembarked in the middle of a bunch of shops and stands, with Atlantis nearby. We headed to a public beach where we were able to sit right by the water, grab a few drinks and enjoy the Bahamas weather. We also stopped at Señor Frogs for some food and drinks on our way back to the ship!
Day 4 — Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Our boat anchored down near the coast of Half Moon Cay, and a smaller boat picked us up and brought us to land. Half Moon Cay is Carnival’s private island. The beach was amazing, the water was a beautiful shade of blue and there was plenty of space to soak up the sun! Lunch was provided on the island, and drinks were plentiful whether you were on the beach or sitting at Captain Morgan On the Rocks Island Bar. After sipping on some Miami Vice’s and swimming in the ocean, we headed back to the boat to take off for our third destination of the trip!
Day 5 — Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
Connor and I agreed that our day in Grand Turk was definitely our favorite part of the trip. Our entire day was spent on the excursion we booked, and it was such a great experience. After popping into a store or two, we boarded a 100-person catamaran and set sail for a coral reef in Turks & Caicos. After grabbing the GoPro, we descended into the water and swam with a school of fish. Getting the chance to get up close and personal with the sea life was amazing.
Once snorkeling was done, the rum punch was brought out, and a dance party ensued on the way to a private beach. The catamaran docked on the beach, and we were able to get out and swim in the crystal clear waters for a while. Eventually, we sailed back to the dock and boarded the ship for the last time on our trip!
Day 6 — Day at Sea
To be honest, we thought we would have to wake up extremely early to snag a spot on deck for our day at sea, but after having some breakfast, we wandered up to the pool deck and found five seats together right away. We spent the day in the jacuzzi, reading, drinking, snacking and going down the water slides.
By far, my favorite part of our Day at Sea was the Alpha Male Competition! After some convincing, Connor agreed to enter the contest. He competed against other men on the cruise in three rounds, and he won!
Aside from being crowned as the Alpha Male, he also received a bottle of champagne (that we popped on the top deck at sunset) and a trophy of Carnival Sensation — the trophy is already on display in our living room!
Day 7 — Miami / Fort Lauderdale
On our final morning of the cruise, we grabbed some breakfast at the buffet before we disembarked. We went to the airport to check our bags early, and then headed toward the beach for some lunch. We went to Rock Bar in Fort Lauderdale for a few 45 oz margaritas (we shared!) and some fish tacos, and we enjoyed our last few hours of warm weather before heading back home to 20 degree weather!
Dining Options on Carnival Sensation
For most of the trip, we chose to eat breakfast at the buffet because of the wide range of options available, and because it was usually the quicker dining option for us. From scrambled eggs and omelets to breakfast burritos, bagels, hash browns and waffles, there was something for everyone here! On the days that we had a little more time, we ate in the Fantasy Dining Room for a sit-down breakfast. Here there were options such as Eggs Benedict, French Toast and Frittatas.
We were always off the boat at lunch time, so we picked up lunch or snacks on land; however, our two favorite stops on the ship were Guy’s Burger Joint and the Soft Serve machine at the buffet — thankfully, both were included in our cruise package! It doesn’t get much better than unlimited fries and chocolate swirl in a cone!
When we booked the cruise, there were several dining options available for dinner: Early, Late or Your Time Dining. We chose the “Your Time” option, which meant that we had a window from 5:45 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. to go to the dining room for dinner each night. Our group was seated in the Fantasy Dining Room, and with a versatile and sometimes adventurous menu, the food was great! From Shrimp Cocktail and Ox Tongue (yes, I tried it and actually liked it!) to Fried Portobello Mushrooms, Spanakopita and Seafood Pasta, each meal was delicious. I can’t forget the Chocolate Melting Cake for dessert each night! It was definitely our group’s favorite dessert!
The staff in the Dining Room also celebrated my birthday and Connor’s birthday whenever they had a chance! Each time they celebrated our birthdays, we were given a small cake, and the restaurant would sing happy birthday. It was such a sweet gesture!
Entertainment on Carnival Sensation
There was always something to do while we were on the ship every evening. From the Welcome Party and a Murder Mystery event based on Clue, to a game night, comedy club, dance club and casino, we had plenty of activities to partake in throughout the cruise! There was even an adult-themed scavenger hunt, which provided us with a lot of laughter and a very interesting night!
Our group’s favorite part of being on the boat was the professional photographers’ stands — and it showed. We must have taken well over 100 photos between the five of us, and you know we had a great time doing it!
I am happy to report that after five days at sea, I am over my irrational fear of sailing on large boats, and my motion sickness did not get the best of me. Our cruise was absolutely amazing, and I am already brainstorming ideas for our next cruise vacation!