January was the perfect time for a Caribbean Cruise. Trading our snow-blanketed home and puffy parkas for sun, sand, and sea, we were embarking on the Carnival Sensation cruise ship, with scheduled stops in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Was the Sensation sensational?
Once aboard the Sensation, after a frustrating 2+ hour wait at the Port of Miami (even with “Faster to the Fun”), I was immediately struck by how dated the decor appeared. I began to wonder if I’d stepped onto a time machine rather than a cruise ship. (Think: 1970s-1980s… chic?)
If you fancy the idea of journeying back in time… or just want a stem to stern tour of the Sensation, watch my full video tour here:
Some aspects of our experience were less than ideal… The 18+ Serenity Deck was anything but serene. People who appeared to be under 18 were partaking in the Jacuzzi, the deck was packed and people were chatting loudly, and one of the Jacuzzis and a third of the deck was roped off, exacerbating the overcrowding problem. In the Dining Room, service was slow, lines were long to get in, and the food arrived lukewarm. Blue Iguana and Guy’s Burgers were my best bets for great meals on the ship, but, regrettably, both closed before or at dinnertime (?!) I managed to get injured by a defective piece of furniture when a glass table top that was not attached to the legs slid off and shattered. I was distraught to experience a bleeding incident on the seas but thankful that sharks had nothing to do with it. The response from Guest Services was egregiously unsympathetic, but the doctor in the medical bay was extremely courteous and friendly and tended to my wounds at no charge. Entertainment on the ship was okay, but compared to other ships I’d sailed on underwhelming. All in all I had a good time on this ship with the exception of the one night I was injured – usually negatives were balanced out by positives – but it wouldn’t be my first (or second, or third…) choice of ship to sail on for future bookings. I can’t give this particular ship a glowing recommendation, but I certainly have no regrets about taking this cruise! I think the worst day on any cruise is better than the best day at home!
Of course, there was more to this cruise than the ship! Venturing on to the ports of call! In the words of Bob Marley, it was “One Love” on this itinerary, because Grand Cayman was cancelled due to weather conditions, and we only stopped in Jamaica. And indeed, I did love it. I booked an excursion from Mystic Mountain: Bobsled Jamaica, which included a rainforest chair lift ride, bobsled jaunt down the mountain, and visit to Dunn’s River Falls. The first activity was the chairlift ride, where I ascended higher and higher into the sky surrounded buy lush green tropical foliage and the enthusiastic chirping of tropical birds. Once high enough, spectacular views were revealed of the ocean, cruise ship, and surrounding rain forest. The ride was both relaxing and exhilarating.
Once at the top, I was treated to the blissful sounds of live reggae music, the colorful swirling dresses of dancers, and shops and street vendors selling a variety of local wares. Here, I was able to catch my bobsled for a thrilling ride to the bottom of the mountain. The bobsleds were controlled by the driver with acceleration and brake pedals, so this is a great experience for everyone from the most timid to the most adventurous. And who doesn’t want to live an Olympic dream? (Sort of!) It was definitely a “cool running!”
After the bobsled adventure it was more entertainment from the live band, this time accompanied by an acrobat, and the trip back down the mountain on the chairlift. From there I waited for the shuttle to Dunn’s River Falls.
Dunn’s River Falls, perhaps the most famous of attractions in Jamaica, was very different than I anticipated. The description for the excursion indicated that it was “challenging,” however, I didn’t think much of that considering I have completed numerous “challenging” excursions in the past with no trouble at all. But this turned out to be far, far, more strenuous than any excursion I had ever done before. You have two options when you arrive at the falls: hike up the falls in the water or hike alongside the falls by land. I opted for the water – unaware of what I was “diving” into.
The falls are very, very steep and the water pressure is pretty extreme. The guides insist that you hold hands with others in your group on the way up to help deter the power of the water pushing you down or off the cliffs. I found out very, very quickly that, rather than getting “splashed” by the water, you are actually immersed in the water – at some points all the way up to your shoulders. The immersion in the water felt like a metaphor for the immersion in anxiety I felt the further we progressed. Not anticipating the depth of my soaking, I wore long pants and a top – no swimsuit (bad idea!). I had a great deal of trouble keeping steady and holding my own against the force of the water – to the point that it was actually frightening. Luckily, there were “exits” all the way up the falls, but it’s a while before you actually reach the first one.
I admittedly wimped out and exited early, thanks to a medical condition, and after breathing a sigh of relief hiked on land the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the views are underwhelming because at no point can you see the whole falls unless you go up in a helicopter. They change direction and there is a lot of foliage to block the view. I probably would have enjoyed this activity were I free of medical ailments or young – many others appeared to be having a good time.
Back at the meet-up points, vendors hounded us relentlessly. Soaking wet, exhausted, and aching, I was not in the mood for that! Honestly, I’m glad I can say I’ve done this once – it’s something definitely worth doing once, but should I book this excursion again (and I would because the rest was so enjoyable), I would skip the falls portion.
It was back to the ship and two sea days – since we didn’t end up stopping in Grand Cayman. I was able to capture these experiences far better on video, and will be posting a YouTube vlog on Jamaica Friday of this week. There you will be able to see video footage from the chairlift and bobsled and an up-close-and-personal look at the falls. Please subscribe to my channel to stay updated!: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC91pXs3Ydbrw5Uc3EFSkO5Q?