My review of the Carnival Sensation taken September 20-27, 1997 with the Compuserve Cruise Forum Cruise Bash.
This went very smoothly for Sean and I. We were very impressed at how easy it was. We flew into MIA and got our bags. Then we went right outside and got a cab and told them “Port of Miami – Sensation”. The cab driver got us right there and it was easy for us to verify that we were going to the right place as there were signs saying “Port of Miami” and where the ships were docked so we could confirm where we were to go. Also, the flat rate of $15.75 was great. It made it very straight forward. After tip we gave him $20 which is the same price as Carnival’s van. I haven’t taken their bus,
but I can’t imagine it is as easy as our cab ride was.
Then we got to the ship and porters rushed to take our bags. We had to hurriedly try to figure out what we wanted to keep as they were taking everything! We had to go pull our carryons off the cart. Next time I will be more prepared for that. We were trying to take care of the cabbie and one of us should have done that while the other directed the porters and watched as our bags were unloaded. They are very efficient, but swarm on your bag the minute it leaves the cab. After we got that straightened out, it was fine.
When we got into the terminal there were nice Carnival people to direct us to where we needed to go. We waited in line but it moved pretty quickly. Then we had a bit of a walk and we were boarding the ship. People were quick to direct us to our cabin and it was easy to find.
Ship Layout/Getting Around:
To be honest, I had a very difficult time finding my way to the different places efficiently. I thought the ship was confusing. Some elevators only went part way up. The numbering scheme on the rooms was confusing (they were not consecutively numbered). Things like the laundry rooms were hard to find. The maps on the walls of each deck were really bad. They showed the decks, but not what was on each one or how to get anywhere. I carried the deck plan they gave us everywhere so I could find my way around. And still, I ended up most of the time taking the wrong elevator to get where I was going. I could get to the proper deck, but had to walk the length of it usually. And the Ecstacy Dining Room was VERY difficult to get to! We finally figured it out, but it took awhile.
I would suggest that Carnival change the maps on each floor (preferably at each elevator) to be the same as the Deck Plans booklet. That, with a “you are here”, would be a big help.
We were very happy with our cabin. It was roomy and the bathroom was very nice. I was expecting shampoo/etc in the bathroom and was surprised that they didn’t have it. I brought my own, but was expecting them to have some. I guess I just never thought they would not. I almost didn’t bring enough thinking we would have plenty.
The TV was nice but channel 10 acted up fairly frequently. I was a little disappointed in the movie selection. I expected more current, popular movies. We like to watch movies and had expected more of the current blockbusters. We did enjoy the movies though.
There was plenty of hanging room (and we had a LOT of clothes!) and enough shelf space (although drawers were limited). A shelf in the bathroom would have been nice. The cabin was also well lit which is nice. A lot of times the hotel rooms we’ve stayed in have been underlit. It was not glaring either which was good. We had an indoor cabin. It is funny how it looks like a window but isn’t. I think I would do away with the curtain and just put a picture or something there. We used the ledge to set things on and the curtains just got in the way.
There was food, food and more food on the ship. The only kind of dead spots were between 10:30 and noon and between 3:00-6:00 and then after your dinner until about midnight. These were times that you could only get pizza or room service. But the pizza was delicious and the room service had coffee and brownies and sandwiches and chips and plenty enough to keep you going until the next meal. And of course, it is free. Although don’t forget to tip the person who delivers it.
We did, however, run into both of the dead spots during the day. We would get up too late and miss the breakfast buffet or take a nap and miss lunch. Much as there is a lot of food, I would still like a little place to maybe get pastries and cereal until noon and sandwiches in the afternoon. I know, picky picky.
The Seaview Grille is where the breakfast and lunch buffets were held. We ate almost every breakfast and lunch here. It was delicious with good variety. And it was nice because you didn’t have to stick to a schedule like you do in the dining room. I guess I really wish we would have made at least one breakfast and lunch in the dining room, but it seemed to be just too much trouble at the time.
The room service was very good and we got lots of coffee and cookies/brownies in the afternoon when we woke up from our nap and/or were watching a movie. Once we had sandwiches which were very good. Sean is a vegetarian and they even had a veggie roll on the room service menu. We also got pastry and coffee some mornings. The buffets were my favorite though. They had eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, hash browns, toast, pastry, cereal, fruit, yogurt, french toast, coffee and more at breakfast and at lunch they always had a nice salad bar and hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken filets, pasta, french fries, desserts, etc. We only ate at the dinner buffet once and I can’t really remember it except I think it was very similar to the lunch buffet. They also had a crepe buffet (dessert crepes with fruit and fillings and whipped creme) at 1:30 in the evening and a themed buffet at 12:30am.
The themed buffets were good. We only ate at a couple of them. The Oriental buffet had sushi and many oriental dishes and was delicious. The mexican buffet wasn’t bad. The Grand buffet was really something. I don’t remember what all they had but I know that the older gentleman we sat next to took one look at my plate and said “I used to be able to eat like that!” while I just nodded and started stuffing it in. Sean said it was really a mound of food. I guess I didn’t notice. I was just really hungry and it hit the spot.
The formal dining room was very nice. It was nice to be able to socialize at dinner. Sean particularly liked it because they had really delicious vegetarian entrees and he doesn’t get a nice variety of good vegetarian food very often. They could have been a little more creative on their vegetarian dishes, maybe done an eggplant stir-fry or spicy bean cakes or fried tofu appetizers, but they did a decent job of having good food for vegetarians too. And this was just my opinion on the variety. Sean was quite happy with what they had. I thought the food in the dining room was good for having to feed so many people at one time. It was not particularly spectacular, but it was good. I especially liked having good soups and interesting appetizers. And of course the desserts were always a winner. The entrees were not as good as the rest of the courses I didn’t think, but I still liked it very much. And the Chocolate Decadence knocked our socks off. If you like chocolate you will love this.
And when all else fails, there is always PIZZA! They had really great pizza, fresh and hot from the oven 24 hrs. a day. We really liked the Neopolitana, which was a delicious veggie pizza. If you ordered anything but cheese or pepperoni you had to wait for about 5-10 mins. But the cheese pizza (and the pepperoni) was very good too and would tide you over while waiting…
There are so many of these it is hard to go into much detail. The Grand Atrium, a 9 story atrium in the middle of the ship is spectacular and glitzy, all neon and glass elevators and lights. I am starting with the top deck and working down.
Misc Top Decks:
There are several 1/2 decks at the very top of the ship. One, by the smokestack is the “top optional” sunbathing deck. Cameras are not allowed, but if you go up there to lay out, don’t lay too close to the railing. The people on the main pool deck got quite a view on occasion and there was a lot of watching of that deck going on. There is also a Jogging Track at the front of the ship that was really nice and made of that crushed rubber type surface which is good to run on. It didn’t seem to be being used a lot. There was also shuffleboard and volleyball up there, neither of which we saw being used. It had a nice view from the rail in front. Also, just under that was the Nautical Spa and Gym. They had all sorts of treatments and stuff at the Spa. We went there for the free tour and almost didn’t get out. It was pretty hard-sell. It made me steer away from the gym and the whirlpool there because they seemed a little too pushy I thought. The gym looked nice though and some people went there and liked it. Just outside are table tennis tables and we had a lot of fun playing ping-pong.
Also on this level is a little pool and a couple of hot tubs at the back of the ship. It was much less crowded and busy back here and we got the pool all to ourselves and just laid there and floated (it is salt water) for about a 1/2 hour. Then we popped in the hot tub and had a drink. That is the life! However, for excitement and music you would want to go to the Lido Deck.
The Lido Deck:
This is where the Seaview Bar & Grill is and the main pool area. The Seaview was a very well-laid-out buffett/cafeteria type restaurant where you could go for breakfast and lunch buffets and late night crepe buffets and 24 hrs/day pizza. It was well taken care of and had plenty of seating. The lines never got too long and there was lots of nice seating both indoors and out. It was very airy and pleasant. Carnival has a winner with this idea.
The Pool area had a large deck with lots of lounge chairs and then an upper “balcony” with more lounge chairs. Under the balcony in the shade were tables and chairs. At one end was a bar. There was a huge pool with a giant twisting water slide (that seemed frequently closed) and a hot tub at either end of the pool. There was a stage where the band played frequently and lots of room for impromptu dancing. It was a fun place. They also had lots of various fun activities in theafternoon like Pillow Fights and Grab all the Cutlery from the Bottom of the Pool in One Breath and Hairy Chest contest and other amusements. All of these of course could be seen all the next day on channels 3 and 6. It was a lively place to be in the afternoon.
The Promenade Deck:
The Sensation Boulevard, which is a walkway/promenade down the length of the ship past several of the bars and lounges was a brilliant idea by Carnival and was a nice place to stroll up and down and see who was around and pop in different bars and lounges. There were tables and the Mirage bar in an open area of the Boulevard that was a perfect “people-watching” place. There was also Michelangelo’s, a dance bar/lounge off the Boulevard and Kalidescope, the Disco, and the Casino and Joe’s Cafe (which was never open) and at the end, the Polo Lounge and Plaza Lounge. I think the other places (particularly the Touch of Class piano bar) may have suffered some by not being on the Boulevard. Michelangelo’s was probably our favorite hangout. They had live bands playing mostly oldies and dance numbers. It was strikingly decorated in Roman/Greek style with lots of nude statues. It was generally lively, but not overly crowded.
Kaleidoscope, the disco, played typical current disco/dance/radio music. It seemed to attract a much younger crowd. As a matter of fact they had a portion of the dance floor for kids under 18. We never went to Kalidescope. Just past it was arcade games.
The Casino was huge! We were quite impressed, especially with the number of card games and other “non slot machine” games they had going. And there were ton of slot machines. The limits seemed pretty low and they had nickle slot machines which Sean and I like. We are not gamblers. But some of our group spent a lot of time in there and really had a great time. Someday I’d like to try the card games a little maybe.
Joe’s (Never Open) Cafe was an idea Carnival must have had that didn’t work out. I guess it was supposed to be a wine and fancy coffee bar. It was laid out sort of strange. I’d tear it out and move the person who was playing next to the Mirage Bar on the Boulevard to it’s spot. He had a lot of people dancing to his music and they were dancing in a little space right on the Boulevard. There was also another empty room next to the Casino that I guess they haven’t figured out what to do with.
The Polo Lounge at the end was a nice little cigar smoking lounge and there was a piano player (Murray) in the evenings. Behind that was the Plaza Lounge which had Kevin and Jevon, The Dueling Pianos, in the evenings and then the midnight show was held there. It was a very nice, comfortable lounge with good seating arrangement. It was a little difficult to get a drink at your table there though.
At the other end of the ship from the Boulevard on the Promenade deck was the Fantasia Lounge. This was the main lounge of the ship and where all the main shows were held. It was very attractive and had very comfortable seating. Unfortunately, a lot of the seats did not have a good view. I think they need to make more raised levels so the seats are not all on the same level. They put large round couches behind a little love seat couch that managed to block the entire view for everyone at the big couch behind. I would take the small love seat size couches out. That would solve a lot of the problems and would be relatively easy to do without losing a lot of seating. Ideally, they need to angle the seating more.
The Atlantic Deck:
This had both dining rooms (although you couldn’t get from one to the other on this deck). We were in the Ecstasy Dining Room. This was a very pretty dining room. It was both elegant and glitzy. The lights would flash and change colors and do all sorts of interesting things when the waiters were performing. Also, throughout dinner the lighting subtlely changed. It was a very beautiful dining room. We were never there during the day so I don’t know what kind of view it had. It did appear to have big windows around the outside. The Fantasy Dining room was very similar.
On this deck was also the Children’s Playroom and Pool. We only briefly went through here, but it sure looked like the kids were having a good time.
Also on this level is the Oak Room which is the library, the Touch of Class Piano bar and the Card room. The Oak Room was very pretty and quiet and you could find people in there reading or playing cards or games.
The Touch of Class Piano bar is the strangest designed room on the ship. It is all made up of a “hand” theme. It had bar stools shaped like hands (you sit on the palm)and giant hands at the entrance and a hand pattern on the walls. It is done in red,white and black. I thought it was truly, hideously tacky. Add to that a bad piano player and a lot of drunks trying to sing along and you have my idea of h*ll. But some people really enjoyed it and I have to say that we did not go there and actually try it so I may be wrong. But it just didn’t sound good to me.
The Card Room was a bare room that was used to store the art for the auction and other junk. What a waste of space. It would have made a nice card room. It looked really bad from the outside too. You were basically looking thru a glass window in at a junk room. At the least I would have closed it off from view.
And on this level was the Galleria Shops, a plethora of little souvenir and alcohol and perfume and everything shops. It was quite extensive and interesting for a walk through and to pick up any Carnival souvenirs you may want.
The Empress Deck had the Photo Gallery. It was fairly well organized, but when it got busy, the people waiting to pay stood directly in front of the pictures making it hard to get to them to see if your picture was there. Also, it was a narrow corridor with people coming in both ends and paying at both ends. It was too narrow and they should have a place that is not in the gallery itself where you would take your photos to pay for them.
The Empress deck also had the Purser’s Information desk and Shore Excursion desk and Video Diary store. We went to the Information desk once and they were quick, efficient and friendly. These were in a circular open area, well-laid out.
The decks below that were cabin decks. They were nice and the corridors were really quite wide. The only complaint would be about the laudromats on each deck. They were too small, the detergent dispenser was empty and half of the washers and dryers were broken down and the other half seemed like they were on their last legs. We went to every one on the second formal day because we needed to wash our Cruise Bash T-shirts to wear to the 2nd Bash event. At some of the laundry rooms people were really quite territorial. They didn’t even want us coming in to wait. This was even on our own floor! The laundry rooms were really bad and I’d think Carnival would be embarrassed by them.
Our Cabin Steward (Henry) was very nice and very efficient. Our beds were always nicely made in the morning and turned down at night and the room was always very clean. He was not as imaginative as some of the other Cabin Stewards in making clothing animals, but we had several towel animals that were very amusing such as a frog with my sunglasses on the bed and a monkey? hanging from the mirror over the desk. He really was good. Our ice bucket even was perpetually full of ice.
My only complaint would be that he kept moving our stuff around to neaten/straighten it up and I would put something specifically somewhere and then couldn’t find it and would have to hunt around to see where he put it. That drove me crazy a time or two.
Our waiter, Rogerio was very good too. I thought he was friendly and efficient as was our busboy. Corey, the Cruise Director, was excellent. He was extremely personable and funny and did a great act with birds that he trained. We enjoyed him very much.
The photographers were pretty good, although their quality was not as good as the one other cruise I’ve been on. This is probably because they have to shovel out mass quantities of pictures. We also had a hard time finding a photographer for the informal shots and for the “Take your picture with Corey and his Birds on Deck” type things. We went on a photographer hunt several times and couldn’t find one. We ended up with hardly any casual photos. That’s about all the staff we had contact with.
Ports of Call:
We really spent very little time at any ports. It seemed that most of the time were “days at sea”. This was fine with us. There was plenty to keep us amused on the ship and although port stops are nice, sometimes they are a little more pressure (have to be at a certain place at a certain time) then we felt like having on our vacation. So it was just right for us. We were in San Juan on Monday evening and most of the day at St. Thomas on Tuesday and St. Maarten on Wednesday.
San Juan was OK, but we just walked around and it was not too exciting for us. I don’t know for sure what there was to do there that you couldn’t do on the ship. I didn’t mind it, but wouldn’t really count it as a major port of call. The old town was interesting and we walked around the outside of the old town wall along the water and then entered thru the main original gate and looked at the architecture and historical buildings. We were too late to go to the fort. If we’d docked earlier, I think it could have been more interesting and a city/fort tour or just a walking tour of the city would have been interesting.
St. Thomas (the city – Port Amalie?) was too full of “barkers” – people trying to get you to come into their store. It was annoying. We did find a nice liquor store with very cheap prices which was nice since the alcohol allowance is much higher for St. Thomas. It was surprisingly difficult to find a good liquor store though. We mainly went into town for a liquor store that Sharon had recommended, unfortunately it was not open. We didn’t want to go to the ship’s recommended shop and we only found one other one (although there may have been more elsewhere). I think next time we will just stay around the port where there is a lot of shopping without the hassle of getting to/from town ($2.50/person each way).
That afternoon in St. Thomas we went on the Buck Island Snorkeling trip. It was really great, we loved it. We sailed out to an island and dropped anchor. Then we all got our snorking equipment and jumped in. There were lots of big yellow fish. There wasnot a ton of fish, but plenty enough to be interesting. The guide, Stephanie was very good at pointing out different fish and explaining about them. Someone brought flake fish food and scattered it and then the fish really swarmed! It was a good idea to bring the fish around. I also have heard of people getting rolls from the ship and taking them and breaking off pieces to feed the fish. We also saw turtles and a moray eel and a barracuda and a stingray. Then coming back we had full sails, sunny skies, Jimmy Buffett on the stereo and beer/pop and snacks. A truly wonderful trip. Captain Jim also had some wild stories that he regaled Sean and I with. Jim and Stephanie did a great job. I believe his boat’s name was Shadow.
St. Maarten was a very pretty island and we were lucky to get Dennis (not the Menace as he liked to say) as our tour guide on the Island tour. He was very friendly and I thought he worked very hard to make the trip interesting and enjoyable for us. He even sang to us which we quite enjoyed. We stopped for 45 min. on the French side and we were on a “Le Cigar” store hunt for good Cuban cigars. It took us the whole time and much asking, but we finally found it near the water front aways down from where the bus stopped. Actually, I’m not sure if it was “Le Cigar” but it was a very good little cigar store run by a older, portly, white-bearded French man who obviously liked and knew his cigars. He had a wonderful selection at very reasonable prices and Sean and I enjoyed the 2 cigars he bought for the rest of the trip.
Although there was also some pushy people trying to get you to come to the store, get your hair braided, etc, we found St. Maarten to be generally more pleasant and friendly. Sean had always wanted to get his hair braided and so he had someone braid his whole head, while I had just the front of mine cornrowed. They both turned out really good and Sean had all the black women at the library where he works come up to him and tell him how nice it looked and well done it was and wanting to know where he got it done. They knew all about the finer details of braiding. Sean was expecting the people at work to have a fit about his hair, but most of them really liked it.
Several people also went to Orient Beach which is a “clothing optional” beach on the the french side. I guess it was pretty interesting to see men and women walking around completely naked. I have heard the beach is really beautiful too, but most of the people were more interested in seeing what it is like at a clothing optional beach since most people don’t see that too often.
The evening shows were great and we tried to see most of them. They were Las Vegas dancing and singing type shows or magicians and comedians. One night was the Passenger Talent Show with 9 acts, 3 of which came from the Cruise Bash! We had Steve Pickering singing “Galliano Egypt Tour” (or something like that ) in Latin, no less! And Glenn Sweeney (aka “Frankie”) singing “The Summer Wind” for his Mom for Christmas. And Mardi Foster-Walker (Alan Walker’s wife) singing “Since I fell”. What a talented group we all were!
There was also a live band playing on the pool deck during the afternoons (calypso type music) and a live band at Michelangelo’s at night. Most of the time the band at Michelangelo’s was “Music Unlimited” and they were very good. They played older people’s disco type music (my own classification – me being an older person). They played a lot of oldies. They were a lot of fun. They were HOT HOT HOT!!!
The waiters also entertained us most nights with something to do with the theme of the meal (italian, american, etc). They sang “O Solo Mio” and danced to Hot! Hot! Hot! and just were generally a lot of fun. We didn’t make it there, but I heard that the usual piano player in the “Touch of Class” piano/singalong bar was pretty bad. Fortunately, there was another piano player on the ship, Murray (who was a retired Rear Admiral) who played occasionally and at the Polo Lounge who was very good and who became friends with several of the Bashers.
There were midnight shows with a little more risque entertainment. They were also very good. We really liked the shows that Tia Thompson (a comedian and singer) did and we really liked Happy Cole (a comedian) too. Happy did some really funny bits on cruising and Tia sang extremely well and was very funny. We didn’t really care for T.J. McCormack (a comedian) all that much. We liked Gaetano, the magician. His midnight show was really funny. All of the Passenger participation shows were very funny although some of them, I wonder what they thought the next day. One guy thought he was James Bond (and/or Debbie) and took his pants off. And he was in law enforcement! He was funny, but scary.
Oh yes, Corey, the Cruise Director was very funny and did a great act with his birds that he trains. I guess he worked for a long time at Busch Gardens as a bird trainer/act before this.
Also, one of our members had a 4 year old daughter who went to Camp Carnival and was never seen the rest of the trip. She had a whale of a time and from what I could see, Camp Carnival (the entertainment for kids) was a smashing success. Now a 15 year-old might have a little less fun on the ship unless they met up with some other kids. We talked to a couple whose 15 year-old went to the Carnival activities for that age and hated it, but then met some boys and had a great time.
Some things we were disappointed in were that the there was very little opportunity to do ballroom dancing and we actually had to skip our late seating dinner on Wednesday in order to go to “Ballroom Dancing” since it was from 8:15-9:15 and then the band played Jazz the whole time instead of ballroom dance music and it was undanceable and they obviously did not have the faintest idea of what they were doing wrong. They seemed to think people were just not interested in dancing when several of us had skipped dinner to dance and couldn’t because they couldn’t even play something you could dance to. Just because it has “Mambo” in the title doesn’t make it a dance song. And just because it has a waltz beat doesn’t mean that you can waltz to it unless they play it at a waltz-able tempo. We were very disappointed.
Also, I thought the Art Auction was pretty hokey. They could have done it one time if they wanted, but over and over again was just way too much. I would have preferred almost anything else. They could have had more Trivia Questions or Gameshow style games, those were fun.
And last, the Carnival Capers (their daily newspaper) was laid out very badly in my opinion. It was very difficult to figure out what was going on where. And there was not enough description of the activities. I would have preferred a front page like they had it with the Theme/Port of the Day and a little commentary about the day and then a straight 6:30am-1:30am comprehensive list of what was happening where, with a description. Then at the end maybe a list of misc. things like Spa specials and other advertising. The only other cruise I’ve been on, the ship’s paper was much better and easier to follow.
It was hurry up and wait. Fortunately a bunch of us from the Bash were waiting there so it was a nice last visit. We went to the Michelangelo’s Lounge at about 8:30 and didn’t get off the ship until probably 11:00. I think it was after 10 before they even started letting people off the ship. We were getting worried as we had a 12:30 flight. But when they announced our color (they let people off by a color associated with your room location) we had to slowly work our way down about 6 flights of stairs (it was packed, but it did keep slowly but steadily moving) until we got to the ship’s exit. It was a little too confining for Sean, he hates being packed in, but it didn’t last too long. Once we got past customs (basically just handing your customs card to someone standing there and walking on) it spread out and was not crowded. We quickly went to the luggage area and luckily found our bags right away and they were all together. We have a tall bag that stands upright and I wrap it in duct tape so it stands out like a beacon. Several other people had a hard time finding their luggage and it had been put under the wrong color and all sorts of problems. I am going to get some bright tape (maybe day-glo or florescent) and put it on all our luggage next time, even though we didn’t have a problem.
Then we got a porter to carry our luggage to the taxis (an extravagance, but worth it in our case since we had a lot of luggage and not a lot of time). The taxis were pulling up and people didn’t know what to do so we just bowled right on up to one and hopped in and starting dragging over luggage. The taxi driver drove fast so we got to the airport quickly and then we checked our bags on the curb and that was fast. And there was no line at the gate to check in so we really cruised the whole way. It was no problem. And our bags even arrived at our destination and the airport courtesy van was waiting for us! (it was a coincidence it was there, but still we could just hop in). We got dropped off at our car, had a 2 1/2 hr. pleasant drive and we were home.
We loved the Cruise Bash! It was great to meet everyone and see them throughout the week. We are definitely looking forward to doing it again! One thing I think would be nice if we do it again though would be to maybe have the Cruise Bash staff or volunteers be at certain places at certain times so we could touch base with them, see who is around, find people, etc. Sean and I would have liked to have a Table Tennis tournament (or game) with people but it was hard to coordinate. If we could have say, met Steve on the Lido Deck at 10am and put the word to him that we were looking for ping pong players at the tables, then he could have told other bashers looking for something to do. I was thinking something like say a person at the pool area in the morning, one there again that afternoon, one in a central meeting/drinking place early evening, one somewhere with dancing later evening. It’s just a thought, but some way to meet as a group informally other than word of mouth (especially for people like us who can never find ANYONE!) would be good. And some Cruise Bash activities would be fun like card tournaments, games, ping pong, dancing, whatever would be fun. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a place to meet and a thing to do. We loved the cruise, loved the Bash and loved the Bash people!
We would definitely go on another Carnival cruise and we would definitely go on another Cruise Bash.
Becky Carleton, a librarian at the Johnson County Library in Kansas challenged me to name ten pieces
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