The 2013 renovation plans were designed to transform the vessel, adding new decks, 182 new cabins, new restaurants and bars, and a new water park with three speed slides. Destiny would also emerge with a new name, Carnival Sunshine. An unusually long 49-day dry dock in Trieste, Italy was scheduled for the work, with Sunshine’s first sailing set for April 12. Alas, not quite everything went according to plan.
New ships don’t come around often, and renovations as extensive as the one planned for Destiny/Sunshine are even more rare. The ship went under the knife just after the infamous Carnival Triumph fiasco unfolded, and Carnival executives announced extensive plans for improved operating redundancies and safety features, fleet-wide, starting with Destiny/Sunshine. In order to complete the work, the ship’s initial two sailings were cancelled, meaning the third scheduled cruise that we had booked became the “inaugural” voyage for Sunshine.
This is an awkward review for us to assemble. It was not our preference to test Sunshine the first day out of dry dock, but Carnival refused to move our booking to a later date without imposing substantial penalties. The many problems we encountered during the May 5, 2013 sailing are reported here, and we’ll do our best to avoid re-hashing them in this review, but suffice it to say when we boarded, Carnival Sunshine was definitely not ready for the spotlight.
About Our Cruise
First, the good news: the revitalized Carnival Sunshine represents a truly transformed cruise ship. Those who sailed on Carnival Destiny will be hard-pressed to find evidence of the old ship—almost no area went untouched. Parts of the ship that were not structurally altered, such as cabins and hallways have been brightened and freshened with palm-and-sea backdrops, a style familiar to guests who’ve sailed on Carnival Breeze. The gaudy design style of the Joe Farcus era has been scrubbed in favor of a clean, modern ambience.
A key component of the makeover was to increase the ship’s capacity; 182 guest rooms were added throughout the ship. This was accomplished by adding a new forward deck, by reconfiguring a few cabin areas to better utilize precious real estate, and by downsizing some back-of-house areas (including, apparently, the main galley). The main showroom was reduced from three decks to two—the showroom's original lower deck now holds 41 cabins.
But to our surprise, increasing the ship’s capacity by several hundred bodies did not lead to increased crowding as we might have expected. This isn’t to say that sun decks and the buffet weren’t busy—they were, but they didn’t seem any more so than on a typical Carnival cruise. We found seats for shows in the Liquid Lounge as late as showtime; the redesigned buffet venue never seemed jammed. We’re not sure if this was in part due to sailing with a different clientele from the usual Carnival voyage (on our Mediterranean cruise, many guests were European, and somewhat older), but other than embarkation day we did not experience crowd control issues aboard Sunshine. For comparison we'll note that, at 102,853 tons, Sunshine is still quite a bit smaller than the three vessels that comprise Carnival's 128,000-ton Dream class (Sunshine carries 3,006 passengers at double occupancy, versus Carnival Breeze, which tops out at 3,690 guests).
Food was better than we’ve experienced on most Carnival ships, and there were plenty of options. We had a fine meal in Fahrenheit 555, the ship’s steakhouse, while Ji Ji Asian Kitchen is a tasty new Asian dining concept for Carnival that we hope will be introduced on other ships. Though Liquid Lounge, the ship’s showroom, has been downsized, we enjoyed the entertainment staged here, which hews to Carnival’s new emphasis on shorter shows. The handsome, adults-only Serenity area, replete with waterfall, is a great addition to the ship, sprawling across three forward decks.
A Carnival cruise is not for everyone, with any number of loud or boisterous events taking place on a daily basis on every ship in the fleet. Count on the cruise director to be on the speaker system often—do we really need pitches for shore excursions bellowed two or three times a day? These were loud enough to be heard clearly within our cabin, drowning out the sound on our TV (Carnival’s cabin design suffers from a door vent that allows hallway noise to be annoyingly audible).
But there were also a few noise issues unique to Sunshine. Most of the Serenity area faces the speakers for the main pool, so the Hairy Chest Competition, deejay music and other events were heard loud and clear. And the forward section of the top Serenity area is exposed to loud exhaust fans, making us wonder if “serenity” was a misnomer. Worse, when the main showroom was redesigned to convert into a pumping disco late at night, someone overlooked tamping down potential sound leak issues during dry dock. Cabins on decks 3 and 6, immediately below and above the lounge, could feel and hear the blaring disco, a beat that carried on past midnight on our cruise; guests on subsequent cruises say this issue has not been fixed. While we love a spin on the dance floor, you couldn’t pay us to stay in these cabins.
The $155 million transformation from Destiny to Sunshine was originally scheduled for 7 weeks. The time in dry dock was extended to 10 weeks and Carnival executives later estimated final costs at closer to $200 million for the trouble-plagued project, beset by lousy weather and vandalism at the Trieste, Italy shipyard. While Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill later said the line would have pulled the plug on our sailing had they known sooner how extensive the problems were, why didn’t they know? Was Carnival using guests on the inaugural cruise as guinea pigs?
These were issues that impacted our particular sailing, and we think Carnival headquarters bears the responsibility for mismanaging this project and for allowing the ship to sail when it did. So, let our experience serve as a cautionary caveat—to both undelivered marketing hype and the danger of booking a cruise on a ship fresh out of dry dock.
Still, Destiny's bones proved durable enough to withstand a wholesale makeover and deliver a blueprint for future Carnival conversions (see a gallery of photos from the old Carnival Destiny here). Not long after Sunshine set sail, the line announced that such radical surgery would not be applied to future ship renovations. We're not the bean-counters, but we consider the Destiny/Sunshine overhaul a success, bringing new life to an aging member of the Carnival fleet. In coming months we'll be watching to see what types of upgrades are planned for other, even older ships in the family.
The variety of cabins on Carnival Sunshine is pretty broad, warranting careful consideration during the booking process. For instance, Interior cabins make up a whopping 42 percent of the sleeping arrangements, and there are seven different types of Interiors, ranging from “Upper/Lower” cabins (a pair of bunk beds), to units with a porthole view, to Cloud 9 Spa cabins (what we stayed in). Unlike its competitors, Carnival doesn’t provide cabin square footage on its website, but a reservation attendant told us that “all” Interior cabins are 185 square feet. Not true.
Next up are three different types of Ocean View cabins, including obstructed and “scenic” (six forward-facing cabins on Deck 9 with oversized windows). One-third of the ship’s cabins are classified as Balcony, a category that includes 26 Aft-View Extended Balcony units and 6 Premium Vista units (these are nifty aft corner cabins with wraparound balconies). There are also several types of Suites.
Aboard Sunshine we found roughly 80 cabins we would categorically recommend against booking. These are the 40 cabins on Deck 6 immediately above the Liquid Lounge nightclub and all the cabins on Deck 3 (just below). The nightclub did not operate every night of our cruise, but on the nights it came alive (after 11 p.m.), these cabin doors and walls rattled with every beat and guests called the front desk demanding to be moved.
Our Cabin: Cloud 9 Spa Interior
For our cruise we opted to try one of Sunshine’s new accommodations, the Cloud 9 Spa cabins. Also available with a balcony or as a suite, the 95 spa cabins are found on decks 10 through 12. Upgrading to a spa cabin costs between $18 and $26 per day, per person. Carnival’s website says the spa cabins add in “private spa access, special amenities and priority spa reservations.” What this translates to: complimentary admission to the thermal suite in the spa (a day pass is normally $20 per day, per person, or $99 for 7 days), bathrobes, slippers and Elemis bath products instead of the usual freebies, and—maybe—a more convenient spa appointment time. We can only recommend upgrading to a spa cabin for those who plan to spend a good portion of their cruise lounging on the spa’s heated ceramic beds.
Otherwise, our cabin was fairly pro forma, measuring a snug 158 square feet by our ruler (it felt even smaller). After a series of embarkation issues were resolved—described here—we found our cabin to be a decent hideout. There was no couch; the only place to sit other than the bed was a chair at the small desk. The mattress was very comfortable, providing a good night’s sleep, and an unexpected benefit of booking a spa cabin was that, with less foot traffic and no kids, the hallways were quieter than most other places on the ship (sound through cabin doors is a recurring problem we have with Carnival ships).
The bathroom was typically compact, but adequate and clean. After embarkation we had good pressure for our shower, and hot water throughout (other cabins had problems). At various points the toilet would not flush; we were told that the entire forward section of the ship was out for a few hours one night. Our bathroom towels were thick, plush and new, and we had yellow pool towels. There was no shampoo/soap in a wall-mounted dispenser, but two tiny holes hinted it might yet be installed.
There were three full-length closets, each 20 inches wide; one was filled by half with life jackets and a ladder for the pull-down bunk bed. More clothes hangers could have been provided. Cabin lighting was good, almost adequate for reading in bed.
Our TV was 27-inch ViewSonic model—sufficient for a cabin of this size. There was a minibar under the TV, with the usual small array of spirits, beer, wine, sodas and energy drinks. There was a safe above the minibar, and a hair dryer was found inside the desk drawer. Most Carnival cabins include a bowl of complimentary goodies, such as shampoo and toothpaste samples. Our spa cabin was equipped instead with Elemis products—a nice upgrade. Other spa “extras” were a bathrobe and slippers.
We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Carnival Cruise Lines. Note that photos below have been provided by the cruise line and not our reviewer.
Large windows offer excellent views of the ocean and sneak peeks of each destination. Stateroom amenities: Television; soft, comfortable, and cozy linens; hairdryer/bathrobes; 24-hour stateroom service; ample closet and drawer space.
Relax and admire the passing scenery from your stateroom’s private balcony. Stateroom amenities: Television; soft, comfortable, and cozy linens; hairdryer/bathrobes; 24-hour stateroom service; ample closet and drawer space.
A spacious room, that includes Priority check-in during embarkation. Stateroom amenities: Whirlpool bath; vanity dressing table; television; soft, comfortable, and cozy linens; hairdryer/bathrobes; 24-hour stateroom service; ample closet and drawer space.
Carnival Sunshine has a broader array of dining options than almost any other ship in the Carnival fleet. In addition to the main dining rooms and the buffet, where we took most of our meals, there is a burger joint, a Mexican option, a pizza station, plus three specialty restaurants requiring an add-on fee for dinner (two of them are open for lunch with no surcharge); we also found a spot for tapas-style light bites.
One of the unexpected strengths of Carnival Sunshine was the diverse choice of breakfast venues that went beyond the usual main dining room and buffet to encompass the Taste Bar and BlueIguana Cantina. On our cruise a Punchliners Comedy Brunch was held on sea days featuring 10-minute live comedy routines once an hour. We didn’t think much of the comedy—we found it “safe” to the point of neutered—and apparently neither did many other guests. A few months later Carnival altered course and, although the brunch menu remains, the comedy angle has gone the way of the dodo.
Sunshine is also home to a seven-course Chef’s Table dinner, availed once or twice each cruise (in a private room adjoining Fahrenheit 555) for $75, including wine. We didn’t sign up for the meal on Sunshine, but you can read about our Chef’s Table meal aboard Carnival Victory here.
Editor’s note: Following our cruise, an additional surcharge dining venue was added to Sunshine. Bonsai Sushi is located on Deck 4 near Fahrenheit 555 and Piano Bar 88. You can read a review of our experience at this restaurant aboard Carnival Breeze here.
Sunrise and Sunset Restaurants
There are two main dining rooms, the two-level Sunrise Restaurant on decks 3 and 4 aft and the Sunset Restaurant on deck 3 at midship. The two have somewhat different décor but share the same menu. On our cruise, breakfast was served at Sunrise only and neither venue was open for lunch. At dinnertime, Sunset was dedicated to assigned seating times only, at 6 and 8:15 p.m.; Sunrise had assigned seating on the upper level but open seating downstairs.
We found meals here to be generally satisfying, with a menu that will be familiar to Carnival regulars. The everyday dinner menu included such fare as broiled salmon, grilled flat iron steak, southern fried chicken and Carnival’s familiar Indian vegetarian option, which we’ve enjoyed on other ships. The rest of the menu changed daily, and among the starters we tried were heart of iceburg lettuce salad, a light sake-stewed carpaccio of beet with grapefruit and gorgonzola, an odd salad of pear and mozzarella, and crepes filled with spinach and ricotta. Among the entrées we tried were a pan seared tilapia, an overcooked pappardelle in an otherwise satisfying cream and mushroom sauce, and a blackened tilapia served against an overly-heavy tomato sauce with calamari—the jambalaya rice on the side was too salty for our taste.
Our favorite entrée was a broiled center cut pork chop with a Mexican molé sauce, sautéed red cabbage and apple, and mac-and-cheese—south-of-the-border meets Germany. On “elegant” evening (Carnival’s version of formal night) we enjoyed a serviceable, if petite lobster tail with a trio of juicy shrimps, beaker of butter, steamed and breaded broccoli and dollop of mashed potato. Other offerings on the elegant menu included prime rib, pork spare ribs, and spaghetti carbonara.
Our breakfasts here were okay if unexceptional. The menu covered the usual turf adequately—fresh fruits, cold packaged cereals, yogurt, bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese, eggs benedict, pancakes and Belgian waffles. Omelets were available with an egg substitute on request, along with sides of corned beef hash, ham, bacon, pork link sausage, chicken sausage, turkey bacon and hash browns. We tried the French toast and found the syrup way too sweet for our taste, while tasty hot oatmeal was delivered with ramekins of brown sugar, raisins and slivered almonds. On the mornings we ate here, the room was usually calm, though on one port day, service was slow and guests rushed through meals to make their shore excursions. The brunch menu (served on sea days) had a Mexican focus.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, the Lido Marketplace is Sunshine’s main buffet option, and this high-traffic area is one of the key beneficiaries of Destiny’s reworking (which mirrored that of other older ships in the fleet). The traffic flow is much improved with food stations nicely broken up, and there is a greater variety of seating areas. (Destiny’s open-air, aft deck is now enclosed, providing the space for Cucina del Capitano and JiJi Asian Kitchen.) But this area is still quite busy at breakfast and lunch—it’s where a majority of guests seem to take those meals, and navigating the lines requires a bit of patience at peak hours. Yet we always found seating towards the rear, an area most guests seemed to overlook. We also liked the hand-washing machines located near the entrance, though they didn't get a lot of use.
At breakfast, we found fruit to be nicely displayed, but of inconsistent quality (melon bland, grapefruit tart, but bananas fine). Cereals, yogurt, pastries, eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, pork or chicken sausages, bacon, baked beans, French toast and pancakes were all on offer. It’s not a huge selection in main area, but many overlooked the aft section (where Cucina and JiJi are located) where we found omelet stations and a selection of cold cuts and cheeses, along with coffee stations and seating that was more open.
At lunch the selections included a hot and cold sandwich station, a salad bar that featured rotating prepared salads (quite tasty), and hot offerings that changed daily—typical on one day was a Provencale vegetable soup, lasagna, sake glazed salmon, and chicken schnitzel. The dinner selection was similar, and featured such items as cream of sundried tomato soup, fried shrimp, grilled flat iron steak, roast chicken, grilled tilapia with tomato and shallot confit, chicken a la Grecque, etc. The dessert spread was plentiful, though the fare was a bit hit-and-miss.
Drink stations offered free hot coffee and tea around the clock, along with water and lemonade or orange “juice cocktail.” Other drinks were available at the Havana Bar, aft. Sunshine also offers a nifty new Carnival feature: a self-pour beer tap. We had to swipe our key card, of course, adding a $4 charge to our account—but no automatic gratuity was added (an odd but welcome concept). Flavors on tap: Bud Lite and Carnival’s own Thirsty Frog Red.
Blue Iguana Cantina
This is Carnival’s spot for take-out Mexican fare, located next to the main pool. In addition to pumping out fresh tortillas, the cantina has a surprisingly robust salsa bar, with at least ten different fresh salsas, along with lime, cabbage, cilantro, watermelon and other Mexican essentials. Burritos and tacos were built to order—chipotle-rubbed chicken, ancho roast pork, fried fish, beans, corn, grilled onions could all be loaded into the tortillas for fast and tasty lunches. It was definitely a few nachos above Taco Bell fare, which tends to define the quality of Mexican cuisine for many cruise ships.
The cantina is also open for simple breakfasts. While the huevos rancheros were a little different from what we know, they’re a perky way to start the day. Breakfast burritos were packed with scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, ham and potatoes.
Guy’s Burger Joint
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri has invaded Carnival nation, spreading his vision of sloppy, ground chuck love on the high seas most everywhere the fleet’s newer (or newly revamped) ships sail. We had a better Guy’s burger on another ship—the one on Sunshine was a bit dry (shocking, considering the 80/20 blend used for the patties); the fries were heavy, swaddled in an overly salty spice rub. But we seemed to be in the minority on this—the fare was churned out to many happy customers till 6 p.m. daily.
Burgers can be ordered straight up, with bourbon and brown sugar BBQ sauce, chili, or with Guy’s own “donkey” sauce (don’t ask). Also on offer is the Pig Patty—a true ham-burger, made out of bacon. The calorie count was not listed. There’s a fixings bar, with traditional condiments along with sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, and bacon.
Carnival’s steakhouse is a feature we look forward to on most ships in the fleet, and Sunshine’s itineration, Fahrenheit 555, lived up to expectations. This sleek, dimly lighted room is a great showcase for fine meats that are properly prepared and served by a team of crack Eastern European waiters. The up-charge to dine here—$35—isn’t cheap, but if you’re going to splurge on a meal at some point during your trip, this is the place to do it. Our only complaint was that the room was a bit noisy; it wasn’t a busy night when we dined here, but one group of seven guests seemed to take over the space.
The meat selection ranges from the 9-ounce filet mignon to 18-ounce prime cowboy and prime rib-eye steaks; also available were rosemary-infused chicken, grilled fish “from the market,” Maine lobster ravioli, and broiled lobster tail (surf and turf was an option). Starters included escargots, grilled Portobello mushroom, shrimp cocktail, New England crab cake, lobster bisque, onion soup, and a classic Caesar salad.
Soon after we were seated, warm bread arrived with three dipping options, including olive oil and garlic, a tomato puree, and an interesting almond mixture. Our meal opened with an elegant amuse bouche—sun dried tomato and raw tuna topped with dollops of golden caviar. We then dived into our starter of ahi tuna tartare—a column of cubed yellow fin tuna, beautifully presented with micro greens and pearls of various liquids. We loved the carefully stacked salad of baby leaf spinach, plumped with fresh mushrooms and warm bacon and a topping of blue cheese crumbles.
For entrée we opted for the double-cut lamb chops and received a very generous collection of four ribs, perched upright in a skillet filled with scrumptious potatoes, with three additional chunks of meat on the side. This was a great entrée, and perfectly cooked to order. Side dishes (which seemed almost unnecessary) included creamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, Yukon gold potato mash with wasabi, and steamed broccoli.
The steakhouse has a full bar, with cocktails not available elsewhere, along with Sunshine’s full menu of wines (pours seemed a little more generous here than elsewhere on the ship). Fahrenheit 555 is open nightly, and those who dine here on the first night of the cruise are traditionally gifted with a complimentary bottle of wine.
Cucina Del Capitano
This cheery Italian restaurant is a venerable institution for most ships in Carnival’s fleet, and the venue gets a good location on Sunshine, behind the Lido buffet. We’ve found both good and disappointing dishes on the Cucina del Capitano menu, but it’s a meal we look forward to, and we find the add-on fee of $12 to be not unreasonable.
Soon after being seated we were greeted by waiter who sang a quick a cappella Italian song, a personal touch that starts the evening off on the right foot (later, a pop song is performed by five waiters). Otherwise the sound system bubbles gently with background music from Sade to Rufus Wainwright. The meal starts simply with toasted bread and ricotta cheese, with roasted garlic and plump tomatoes on the side.
The menu has a little something for everyone, and portions are huge (sharing is definitely encouraged). Starters include a big, varied antipasti plate, arancini (fried risotto balls over tomato sauce), eggplant parmigiana, minestrone soup, and arugula salad. We opted for the disappointing Caesar salad and very tasty fried calamari, served with marinara sauce for dipping, a charred lime wedge and dusted with sea salt—they were delicious.
Among the main courses are a bavette alla scoglio (pasta with seafood in a white wine sauce), linguini with meatballs, chicken parmigiana, Piedmont-style braised short ribs, New York sirloin, grilled shrimp and grilled salmon. We opted for spaghetti carbonara, a large portion quite rich with cream and bacon. It was far too much for one person to consume—two could easily share this as a satisfying entrée, or a table of four could make it an appetizer. Side dishes are offered, and we found the broccoli with peperonata to be serviceable. Desserts included tiramisu, lemon sorbet, cannoli and an apple tart, with a selection of Italian after-dinner liqueurs available.
Lunch is also served at Cucina del Capitano, and there’s no add-on fee. The menu is much more limited—a selection of three types of pasta and four sauces, though these could be supplemented to order with items such as grilled chicken, garlic shrimp, eggplant, etc. There was also a meat lasagna available, along with Caesar salad. It’s fine as a change of pace, but the dinner experience is definitely better.
Ji Ji Asian Kitchen
This is a new Asian restaurant concept for Carnival, and it’s a winner, along the lines of the PF Chang’s chain, but better. There’s a $12 surcharge to dine at JiJi, and we felt the add-on was well worth it. The food and presentations were right on, with a nice variety of sweet, spicy and savory from different regions of Asia—from Indonesia to China. One heads-up: We heard a couple guests complain of the food being too spicy; for our cruise the menu didn’t indicate temperature levels of dishes, and waiters didn’t provide guidance. We found everything to be reasonable for our tolerance level, but a few dishes were sizzling.
While perusing the menu and enjoying the green tea martini (vodka with green tea and lemongrass syrup), we were offered Indonesian tapioca crisps with various sambal dipping sauces. Being a brand new menu, we took cues from our waitress, starting with the chicken and cilantro root soup, a satisfying broth stocked with lots of corn and oyster mushrooms; jade shrimp dumplings were flush with the lightly cooked crustaceons. Other starters included slow braised pork belly, pot stickers, Nanjing style duck, chicken spring rolls, and tamarind and shrimp soup.
Entrées included peppered beef, slow-braised wagyu bef short ribs, Singapore style chili shrimp, sweet and sour fragrant shrimp, and kung pao chicken. We ordered Chairman Mao’s master stock pig, which was stir fry of stewed pork with scallions, spinach and pea shoots, topped with fresh spinach—just terrific. Various sides of noodles, rice and veggies could be ordered, and we enjoyed the blistered beans spiked with minced pork. The dessert list was short but sweet: The fried wonton, served in a bowl with tapioca pearls and coconut milk was a fine conclusion to the meal.
An adjunct to Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, this spot was open each day for a no-fee lunch, and we found the food to be delicious, with an emphasis on fresh and flavorful, stirred to life in a wok. Three types of flesh were available—pork, chicken and calamari, but the nice spread of vegetables available meant a tasty non-meat meal could be easily assembled. Three sauces were offered: black bean, Thai barbecue and a sizzling green Szechwan.
Pizzeria Del Capitano
Also a spinoff, from Cucina del Capitano, this pizza station delivered quality single-serving pies, starting from breakfast (topped with prosciutto, an egg and fresh arugula). At lunch the choices ranged from Margharita and pepperoni to funghi (mushrooms) and quattro formaggi (four cheese).
The Taste Bar
A newish concept for Carnival, the Taste Bar was a place where one could sample one or two of the items being served at the ship’s various restaurants. Located next to Ocean Plaza, these are tapas-style treats each evening designed to promote the ship’s diverse range of menus—Nonna’s meatballs and bruchetta with ricotta from Cucina del Capitano one night, tastes from Blue Iguana Cantina the next.
The Taste Bar was also open with a limited menu at breakfast and lunch each day, a fact that was oddly overlooked by the ship’s newsletter. In the morning this was a great place to pull together breakfast—cold cuts and cheese, fruit, boxed cereals, hot oatmeal, pastries and breads, and scrambled eggs. During the lunch hour we found such fare as tomato soup, baby shrimp sofrito pilaf, fried chicken, beef stew, as well as a decent salad bar. Since many passengers didn’t know about it, this was a great way to dodge the crowd at the Lido Marketplace (the ship’s busiest area at breakfast and lunch).
There were two menus for room service aboard Carnival Sunshine. Breakfast was outlined on a door tag that could be hung outside our cabin before 5 a.m.; selections were limited to continental breakfast: packaged cereals, breads and pastries, smoked salmon, yogurt, and plates of citrus, melon or banana. There was no lunch menu provided in our room, but a call to the kitchen gave us a rundown of the hot and cold sandwiches, salads and desserts available.
We asked for our continental breakfast to be delivered between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m.—the knock on the door came promptly at 6:18 a.m. The only hot item was the coffee, and it was delivered hot, though the flavor was watery. We ordered corn flakes and a banana, which were delivered with milk; we also requested a plate of pastries, and three items came with the order.
We called to order lunch one afternoon, but no time estimate for delivery was provided. The lunch arrived 19 minutes later. We ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, which consisted of four slices of American cheese, barely melted, tucked into white bread. It was perfunctory, at best, served with a pickle slice and a heap of potato chips. To drink we requested a beer, a 17-oz can of Heineken that was delivered in a tub of ice. In addition to juice drinks, coffee, tea and milk, one could order from the regular bar menu, including soft drinks, or dive into the cabin’s minibar.
For both deliveries the tray was simply adorned with linen, while the silverware was wrapped in a linen napkin. The only place to eat in our interior cabin was the small desk; a meal for two would require someone to sit on the bed.
Carnival Sunshine has an abundance of watering holes to choose from. Not counting the bars attached to dining venues, there were 11 drinking venues spread throughout the ship, several of which represent brand new concepts for Carnival. Bar service could also be ordered at the pool areas and inside the theater. A 15-percent service charge was added to all drink orders. The minimum age for drinking was 21.
The standard drink list included just about any libation we could think of—frozen drinks such as margaritas and piña coladas, along with classics including the mojito, mai tai, Long Island ice tea and cosmopolitan; all were priced $8.75. Cordials and liqueurs such as Sambuca, Cointreau and Baileys Irish Cream and straight shots of Skyy vodka, Bacardi rum, Bombay Sapphire gin and other liquors ranged $4.95-$7.50. Premium liquors such as Johnnie Walker Black, Ketel One vodka and Patron silver tequila were priced $7.50-$9.95.
Most bars had unique drinks, particularly Piano 88 and Alchemy Bar, and each of the restaurant menus had one or more signature drinks, also only available at that spot.
The wine list for the main dining rooms totaled about 90 offerings, with a good selection from California, in particular, with wineries of Italy, France, Chile, Argentina and Australia also represented; most bottles were priced under $40, and about 30 were available by the glass, ranging $6.50 to $12. Wine packages of five bottles were available at a slight discount.
The beer list included the major American brands in 16-ounce bottles for $5.75. Imports and specialty beers were $4.95 and included Bass Ale, Corona, Stella Artois, Blue Moon and Pilsner Urquell, and 16-ounce pours of Boddingtons, Grolsch and Guinness for $5.95. EA Sports had the broadest selection of beers—about 30—including Red Stripe, Presidente, and Sierra Nevada, plus four on tap that could be ordered by the pitcher. There was also Carnival’s own brew, Thirsty Frog Red, a heavily malted beer with a sweet finish, available for $5.50 a pint at the Sunshine Lobby Bar and a couple other locations.
Carnival Sunshine offers the Cheers Beverage Program, priced $49.95 per day, per guest, plus 15 percent gratuity, providing “unlimited” alcoholic and other beverages (the program was priced $42.95 per day on our cruise, a price applicable only for cruises in Europe). Restrictions: All adults in the cabin must buy into the program, it must be purchased for the entire cruise on the first or second day, and there’s a limit of 15 alcoholic drinks served per 24 hours. Those swilling down five or more mixed drinks daily will do better buying the program. For those drinking mostly beer or cheaper wines, or for those spending a lot of time in ports, the package might not work out to a good deal.
Bottomless Bubbles, an unlimited soda package, was also available. The price was $6 per day, or $4.50 for kids (age 17 and under). The package does not apply to room service deliveries and a 15 percent service charge was applied. Soft drinks included Coke products (including Sprite, Pibb Xtra and orange soda); these were all $1.95, as was iced tea. Powerade was $2.95 and Red Bull was $4.75. Bottled waters included assorted vitamin waters, Perrier and San Pellegrino. Non-alcoholic Buckler beer was $3.95.
Java Blue and Shake Spot
Located on Deck 5 midship, along one of the ship’s primary thoroughfares, Sunshine’s coffee shop is a bright, airy spot for fee-added, espresso-fueled coffees, spiked coffee drinks, milkshakes and plus-sized cakes by the slice. Since the ship’s standard coffee is not the greatest, we retreated here on a couple occasions when diving into a real Italian coffee joint was not possible. Java Blue was open from 6 or 7 a.m. till midnight daily—making it perfect for late-night caffeine or dessert cravings.
The menu features espresso, cappuccino, mochachino, caffé latte, chai tea latte and hot chocolate (regular $2.95, or “fun size” $3.50). All could be made with skim or soy milk; shots of assorted syrups and liqueurs were available. Drip and iced coffee was available, and spiked coffee drinks were $5.75. Hand-scooped milkshakes and floats were $3.95, or $7.75 for spiked ice cream concoctions.
Sunshine Lobby Bar
The lobby bar was the epicenter of the ship, with a multi-deck atrium soaring above—giant mirror balls climbed into the rafters from here. The standard cocktail list was available, and the spot was rarely crowded (at least, once embarkation hassles had mostly been resolved at the adjacent front desk). Live music was served up at a couple points in the afternoon and evening.
It just wouldn’t be a Carnival cruise without a raucous piano bar, and Piano 88 represents the newest in the fleet, wearing the look of a trendy blues club on its lapel. The piano man hit the ivory starting at 9 p.m. each night.
The sports bar on Carnival Sunshine is appropriately lined with TVs monitoring the game of the day. There’s a broader selection of beers available here, including four on tap—Bud Lite, Dos Equis, Presidente, and Thirsty Frog Red. These were available by the pint, 60-ounce pitcher, or 101-ounce tube. A sports trivia challenge was held here each evening.
Though awkwardly located along a major thoroughfare on Deck 5 aft, we liked visiting the “pharmacists” at Alchemy, where bartenders prescribed tasty twists on classic elixirs for whatever ailed. The Curative Cosmopolitan is Absolute Citron doused with peach schnapps and cranberry juice; a lemon rind is torched with a lighter and spritzed onto the glass, illuminating the flavors beautifully. At $9 a pop, the drinks are pricey, but we tipped back a couple of their recommendations and found them to be great alternatives.
Red Frog Pub
Think “pub” reimagined by Jimmy Buffet and you’ll have an idea of the scene at Red Frog, located on Deck 5 aft. Though a bit antiseptic for our taste (it’s decidedly clean and air conditioned), it has the dart and board games we count on at a pub, as well as Caribbean bartenders who kept the vibe sunny amid the faux palm trees.
In addition to a few specialty rums, there was a small selection of beers on tap, available by the pitcher or 101-ounce tube, as well as aboard sampler paddle. A small roster of Caribbean beers, including Banks (Barbados), Carib (Trinidad), Presidente (Dominican Republic) and Red Stripe (Jamaica) was available. The cocktail list includes Caribbean-themed drinks—a couple colored with Blue Curacao liqueur—along with variations on the mojito. But our eyes went straight to the drinks featuring Ting, a made-in-Jamaica grapefruit soda that’s offered here with rum, vodka or gin—mmmm. We found live music here nightly—usually a crooner with a guitar.
Red Frog Rum Bar
Not to be confused with the Red Frog Pub located inside the ship, the rum bar was next to the Beach Pool on Deck 9, midship. The cruise ship version of a Caribbean beach shack, there are intriguing rums to try (Zacapa from Guatemala, Gosling’s Black Seal from Bermuda), as well as a selection of rum-based drinks, frozen and on-the-rocks. Spiked lemonade and margaritas were available in pitchers. Draft and Caribbean bottled beers were also offered.
Blue Iguana Tequila Bar
Mirroring (and immediately opposite) the Red Frog Rum Bar, this Mexican-themed outpost also served the Beach Pool sun decks. Tequila is the primary fuel, with various fruity concoctions assembled—we tried one and found it cloyingly sweet. Margaritas and spiked lemonade were also available by the pitcher.
Located where Carnival’s Triumph’s aft pool was originally perched, the Havana Bar is one of the new features introduced by Sunshine, and it’s a winner. By day, this serves as seating for the adjacent Lido Marketplace (overlooked by many, it’s where we discovered unoccupied tables more often than not). But late night the Havana Bar became a seductive nightclub with excellent live salsa music and dancing.
In the morning, Havana Bar served Cuban style coffees for a surcharge as well as traditional espresso-style coffees; there was also a juice machine offering fresh squeezed orange juice for $4.95.
The Library Bar
Though Carnival Sunshine has just a small library of books and board games, the room is actually an inviting and quiet space just off the main lobby. There’s a short list of wine (some of them supplied by enomatic wine dispensers that can be operated with a swipe of one’s key card), along with a decent selection of Scotch, whiskey and cognac. The bar was staffed in the evening, though on a sea day there was a bartender only at midday.
Located on Deck 14, the uppermost level of Carnival Sunshine, this bar had the ship’s standard array of drinks for those using the Serenity Adult Retreat.
Cloud 9 Spa and Gym
Carnival Sunshine’s revamped spa is a bright, if spare facility, managed for Carnival by Steiner Leisure, a company that oversees spas for the majority of cruise lines. We were surprised that the spa is actually a little smaller than Destiny’s original facility on this deck (the salon has been moved inside and a half-dozen guest cabins fill the former space). There’s no Thalassotherapy pool on Sunshine, a standard feature on many Carnival ships, but there is a Thermal Suite that has heated ceramic day beds in a quiet room facing the ocean. Access to the Thermal Suite is $20 per day, per person ($99 for a seven-day pass), but by staying in a spa cabin a pass was included in our cruise fare. We used it on a couple occasions but, quite honestly, the shared facility didn’t seem as inviting as the ports we visited. But we’d think this was a terrific place to camp out on a sea day with unpleasant weather. There was also a “mud lounge” experience on offer, priced $95 per couple.
Prices for treatments were on par with or slightly higher than we find at mid-priced beach resorts. Fifty-minute facials ranged $119 to $169 and massages started at $119 for the 50-minute Swedish or Reflexology massage; 75-minute Thai herbal poultice or aroma stone therapy massages were $195; a 50-minute couple’s Swedish massage was priced $269. Port day discounts shaved about 10 percent off the pricing; there were also discounts for multiple treatments. Other procedures available included teeth whitening, acupuncture, Ionithermie, waxing and men’s grooming. The men’s and women’s changing areas had private sauna and steam rooms, open to those not signing up for a treatment.
We indulged in a Swedish massage during our cruise, and found the treatment well done and quite relaxing. The ceiling of our therapy room was missing some of the panels, but otherwise all went off without a hitch. Afterwards there was a soft sell for the pricey Elemis products used during our treatment—we passed. A service charge (gratuity) was not automatically added to the bill.
Carnival Sunshine has a large gym, a space that received a facelift and new equipment but was otherwise unchanged during the transformation from Destiny. We found latest-generation LifeCycle cardio equipment—bikes, treadmills and elliptical—and we never experienced a line for any of the machines, most of which faced the forward ocean view. A small room off to the side was set up for fitness classes, which included total body conditioning, and stretching sessions—at no charge—plus yoga and pilates ($12 each), and spinning ($30 for three sessions).
Sunshine has some good pool and whirlpool space, but on both fronts we feel the number of options is hardly sufficient for a ship of this size. It was hard to know for sure on our cruise: The main Beach Pool on Deck 9 was roped off and empty, due to unexplained issues (resolved after our cruise concluded). The Beach Pool is the only one available to kids (depth: 4 feet, 6 inches), and we expect the area can be quite crowded, especially on sea days. There were two whirlpool tubs overlooking the pool, and these were filled with people most sunny days. The main pool is flanked by the Blue Iguana and Red Frog bars, and the surrounding lounger space is laid out in Carnival’s typical amphitheater design.
A second pool was located on Deck 11, within the Serenity Adult Retreat. Though more of a round plunge pool than anything designed for swimming, the Serenity Pool was an appealing space, with a waterfall tumbling two decks into the tub. Kids aren’t allowed here, and there’s no music piped in, though if something’s going on around the Beach Pool just below, you’re guaranteed to hear it. The loungers and umbrellas were a popular hangout on our cruise. The ship’s third whirlpool is located two decks above the Serenity Pool, and it’s a great perch for observing much of what’s transpiring on the top decks of the ship; it was also usually filled with flesh.
The WaterWorks area—featuring towering water slides—is one of the crowning features of the renewed ship. Unfortunately, it was closed off until the 11th day of our cruise, so we didn’t get to experience the slides. Looming above Deck 10, aft, Waterworks features snazzy-looking speed slides, including the 334-foot-long Twister Slide, which Carnival says is the longest in the fleet. Signs advised that a 42-inch height requirement was in effect. There were a number of other water features aimed at kids, including a 150-gallon bucket shower.
Also running through this area is SportsSquare, featuring a ropes challenge course, mini-golf, a jogging track and basketball court. All of these features were unavailable during our cruise. The Warehouse was an arcade game area located on Deck 5.
Deck space on Carnival Sunshine is creatively used, though perhaps a bit tight for the number of passengers. The ship’s defining feature may be the Serenity Adult Retreat, spread across three forward decks and with a waterfall spilling into a circular pool. Visually, Serenity is a great picture. But we have one complaint to share: In contrast to the area’s name, it’s short on quiet space. Whatever’s on the sound system at the main pool is audible, sometimes blasted to the midship section of Serenity—this includes the Hairy Chest Contest, the Rum and Tequila Challenge, etc. Even worse, the forward section of Serenity’s top deck is close to noisy exhaust vents that roar 24 hours a day.
Child-free Serenity should be one of quieter areas of what is otherwise a fairly noisy ship—it’s not. Still, we usually found sufficient loungers amid the fake palms and bright yellow umbrellas, making this sun deck easily the finest in the Carnival fleet. Best of all, there’s no up-charge to utilize this prime real estate or its many cabanas—features that Carnival’s competitors usually try to squeeze a few extra bucks from.
Other open-air space on Sunshine included Deck 10, where lots of loungers were lined up at midship, overlooking the Beach Pool. Less heralded were several decks worth of forward-facing hideouts below the bridge, starting from Deck 6 and accessed only from the interior hallways. These decks weren’t quite set up on the inaugural cruise, but they’re the quietest retreat the ship offers on a sunny sea day. Finally, Deck 3 represented the promenade deck, of sorts. There was no access to the forward or aft portions of this deck, so we couldn’t walk around the entirety of the ship, but they were another quieter part of the ship, and the loungers were rarely full.
Shows & Entertainment
There were several live entertainment venues around the ship, starting with the Liquid Lounge, a theatre that has been downsized from the original, three-level Palladium Lounge that occupied this space. The theater has been improved in some ways, by raising the bottom floor (which makes it a little more intimate), but there are still lots of obstructed sightlines and—frankly—we find this venue fairly unattractive. But the two shows we saw here were another matter, both utilizing Carnival’s high-tech virtual sets—massive LED screens—which allow a diverse array of effects to take place behind, and sometimes interacting with, the live performers. Although there are lots of seats to the sides of the stage, note that the virtual staging is best appreciated viewing the stage straight on. Each show ran about 30 minutes, and each earned three performances on our cruise.
Though interrupted with technical glitches during the third performance, “Epic Rock” was very entertaining. It’s a fist-pumping tribute to late 1970s and 1980s arena rock, with all the expected glam costumes and posing. Most of the singing was live, but the music was a canned backing track. It was great for boomers but not too loud for the mothers in tow (just enough volume to make them reach for their earplugs). Songs from Led Zeppelin, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen received an affectionate platform, with all the requisite glam costumes (BYO hair extensions). The second show we saw, “Studio VIP,” was a disco review featuring a roster of late 1970s hits, from Bee Gees to Donna Summer, Chic to Village People (just what the world needs, another opportunity to sing “YMCA”). While it didn’t hold together quite as well as the rock show (less ambitious staging), it was still entertaining, with a qualified crew of singers on stage.
On some nights, Liquid Lounge converts into a full-fledged disco, with a sound system providing major whoomp. Again, not the most attractive of spaces, but we averted our eyes and enjoyed the groove. Other shows that transpired in Liquid Lounge included a comedy-magic act, Bingo (daily) and trivia contests, and Carnival's new Hasbro game show.
Limelight Lounge is home to Sunshine’s comedy club, and there were four or five shows most nights of our cruise. Usually the first show was all-ages, with later shows designated as adults-only. The quality of comedians varied greatly, but with two new acts every three or four days, there was a lot to choose from.
Another spot for live shows was Ocean Plaza, a venue that was used for bands doing rock covers, as well as themed trivia games and karaoke.
While it lacks the goofy themed ambience of the casinos on most Carnival ships, the Sunshine Casino was still a bright and alluring place for gamers to congregate. Located midship on Deck 5, the casino had an abundance of slot machines, along with table games (roulette, craps, blackjack and various types of poker) and the facility was busy whenever we were at sea, with slot machines staying open till 4 a.m. nightly.
Gambling was allowed for guests 18 and older. Guests could charge up to $2000 to their room accounts. Smoking was permitted on the port side of the casino, but the starboard side wasn’t much less smoky—overall it was easily the most cigarette-plagued indoor area of the ship. The ship’s standard cocktail list was available at the casino bar.
The Sunshine lobby atrium has been re-imagined, on the surface at least—it’s one of the most colorful areas of the ship, the one bit of whimsy that former Carnival designer Joe Farcus might have presented. In addition to the lobby bar, this area is home to the guest service desk and the shore excursions desk. Glass elevators swoop through an airy minefield of shiny spheres.
Located on Deck 10, just below the SportsSquare and WaterWorks areas, Camp Carnival is a multi-tiered kids program, divided by age: 2- to 5-year-olds, 6- to 8-year-olds, and 9- to 11-year-olds. Parents need to drop off and sign out children in the two younger groups; the older kids have sign-in and -out privileges at all times. The youngest group has an outdoor (enclosed) play area, though it was unfinished during our cruise. Age-appropriate activities were offered, such as face painting, Wii dancing and G-rated movies.
The age 6-8 group participated in magic shows, teddy bear crafting (additional fee required), talent shows and games. The age 9-11 group participated in scavenger hunts, karaoke, and learned towel folding. The facility was most days for an hour or two late afternoon, and babysitting services were offered from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., for $6.75 per hour, per child, plus 15-percent gratuity.
Circle C was the clubhouse for 12- to 14-year-olds—they were allowed to come and go without parental supervision. There was a dance floor and video games, and scheduled activities included Wii games, scavenger hunts, charades, dance class, pizza parties, etc. Club O2 is Carnival’s program for older teens—age 15-17. It was strictly a no-adults, no children retreat (supervised by one adult crewmember). Activities included theme dance parties, water fights, and karaoke shows.
The collection of Fun Shops flanks the central atrium on Deck 5. Among the offerings were resort wear clothing for men and women, watches, jewelry, a modest selection of perfume and cologne selection, along with Carnival Sunshine logo merchandize. There was also a shop with liquor and cigarettes at duty-free prices, and a candy shop called Cherry on Top. Sundries included sun block, pain and cold medications, etc. Overall, the selection didn’t vary much from what we see on other ships (much less at our ports of call), and it was not as extensive as we’ve seen on some big vessels.
On Deck 4, the Pixels Gallery offered the ship’s gang of photographers a place to display photos of guests. Portrait sessions could be scheduled. There was also a small shop selling a limited selection of camera batteries, memory cards, photo albums, as well as point-and-shoot style cameras from Olympus and Fujifilm.
On Deck 2, hidden behind the guest elevator shaft, was the Art Gallery. Art auctions were a staple activity on board.
Our inaugural cruise must have been unusually trying for the crew. Many basic functions were not working or not installed yet, so guest complaints were rife. Yet most crewmembers exhibited an upbeat attitude that managed to walk the fine line between merely acknowledging versus resolution of problems, when they could.
For the first two days of the cruise, a long, slow-moving line snaked down a hallway from the guest services desk at all hours. Our first wait to resolve cabin issues kept us in this line for 2 hours, 10 minutes. The desk seemed to have been staffed at the level for a normal cruise—a real miscalculation by headquarters that only exacerbated the complaints. Issues seemed to be inefficiently logged-in, which might be why some problems took days to resolve (yes, we waited in line two additional times to deal with problems).
On the third day of our cruise the captain released a letter to all guests offering a $150 credit, per cabin, for the inconveniences. Guest relations staff also provided additional credits—a percentage of the original cruise fare paid—on a case-by-case basis to those who experienced more extensive headaches.
The ship’s daily newsletter, Fun Times, landed in our cabin each evening. The layout of the newsletter wasn’t always conducive for easily identifying for what was going on at any given time. Some events were listed in an hour-by-hour schedule, but others—especially live music—were listed elsewhere. Still, there were plenty of booming P.A. announcements for shore excursions, art auctions and Bingo events by Sunshine’s Cruise Director (who never acknowledged the ship-wide problems taking place). All of these were loud enough in the corridors to be heard loud and clear within our cabin, even drowning out the sound on our TV.
The main Internet station was located next to JaveBlue Café. PCs were provided, and an attendant was often available for questions. There were also a couple Fun Hubs set up at other high-traffic areas of the ship (such as the lobby) where a couple computers were set up for guest use.
The WiFi was clunky the first couple days of our cruise, but thereafter ran pretty well—faster, in fact, than we’ve had on some other ships. The basic Internet usage plan was .75 per minute, plus a one-time $3.95 activation fee; this covered computers in the café as well as WiFi around the ship. There were various packages available that brought the per-minute price down to .64 per minute (45 minutes for $29), .49 per minute (120 minutes for $59), etc. There was a printer available, for .50 per page.
Carnival’s dress code is fairly informal, day and night. That said, “gym or basketball shorts, flip flops, bathing suit attire, cut-off jeans and men’s sleeveless shirts” are not allowed in the restaurants (presumably, though not explicitly, this policy is not in effect for the Lido Marketplace).
One or two nights of each cruise are designated as Elegant Evenings. In addition to the above, on these nights shorts, T-shirts, jeans, sportswear and baseball hats were not allowed in the restaurants. Jackets were not required for men.
Most Carnival ships have a formal shop renting tuxes for men; we didn’t find one open on Sunshine’s inaugural cruise, but it’s possible it was opened for subsequent cruises.
Sunshine has self-serve laundry rooms, with washers, dryers and an iron and ironing board. Each load is $3 for the wash, $3 for dry, and boxes of detergent were $1 each. Laundry service (but not dry cleaning) is available, at the usual inflated hotel prices.
General Health & Safety
While there were no apparent health issues during our cruise, we had safety concerns—mostly stemming from Carnival Sunshine’s renovation being incomplete at embarkation. Most of the ship’s unfinished areas were off-limits to guests, but at two outdoor staircases leading from Deck 10 down to Deck 9 an essential wooden plank was missing at the top step, causing a one-inch metal lip to be exposed. We observed multiple able-bodied guests stumble here, catching themselves before a fall; a temporary fix was not fashioned for this hazard until the third day of our cruise. Exposed ductwork, chemical smells and flooded carpets may or may not have posed safety issues, but these types of problems were rampant for the first few days of the cruise. Presumably, all of these issues have long since been resolved.
The muster drill was held just prior to sail-away. We were not required to bring life jackets from our cabin to the drill and roll call was not taken. Muster stations were located on deck 4.
A medical center is located on Deck 0, a level that otherwise has no guest facilities. The office was open from 8 a.m. to 12 noon, and 1 to 8 p.m. daily; the doctor was available during most of these hours.
Carnival Sunshine had several areas designated for smoking. This included the port side of Deck 3, the starboard side of Deck 10 near the outdoor stage area, and the port side of the casino, including the casino bar. Smoking was also allowed on guest balconies, though not for the spa cabins on decks 10 and higher. We were in an interior spa cabin, so balcony smoke didn’t affect us, and the only part of the ship that was excessively smoky was the casino.
For information on Carnival Cruise Lines’ tipping and service charge policy, see here.
For information on Carnival Cruise Lines’ alcohol policy, see here.
For information on Carnival Cruise Lines’ loyalty program, see here.
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