It’s safe to say Carnival Sunshine had a pretty rough start in life. This $155 million refit project — which had never been attempted on this scale — to transform an old ship into effectively a brand-new one hit some snags when it launched without all of the features ready.
Well, we now know why, as revealed by Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Officer Gerry Cahill when onboard over the weekend.
Two simple and unrelated reasons: vandalism and bad weather. The first affected the new cabins, the second the WaterWorks and SportSquare.
I’m happy to report that all these issues seem to have been resolved, or certainly there was no sign of any problems on my three-day cruise from Barcelona to Rome.
I never cruised on Destiny, so I have no point of reference in terms of where the old ship ends and the new begins. However, I have read the Commemorative Inaugural Book, which has been left in every cabin and shows the before and after. I’ve also thoroughly explored every public space and talked to colleagues who speak fondly of what was at the time the biggest cruise ship in the world.
What I can compare the ship to, though, is Breeze, from which this one takes a lot of now well-established features like the RedFrog Pub, BlueIguana, Punchliners, Liquid Lounge and Guy Fieri’s burgers. These have been thoroughly reviewed before; my aim is to look at what’s unique to Sunshine.
So what follows is my first impressions from a three-day cruise.
Havana Bar/JiJi/Cucina del Capitano
This elegant, sophisticated and seemingly never crowded addition at the aft of the ship (on Destiny this was where the aft pool was) on Deck 9 is an antidote to the bun-fight that is the Lido Marketplace. In the mornings you can get omelets and eggs cooked how you like; at lunch chefs will whip up fresh, wok-cooked noodles with your choice of meat; or you can have a free sit-down lunch at Cucina del Capitano. The space itself is large, with lots of different types of seating, some against the aft windows. In the middle is the bar, which serves some lovely Cuban nibbles during the day such as empanadas. At night, this is where the two new specialty restaurants are — JiJi and Cucina, both of which have $12 cover charges. Curtains shield the restaurants from the main bar, and the food is outstanding, particularly in JiJi.
Tea, Coffee and Shakes
Java Blue/Shake Spot just off Ocean Plaza serves really good coffee and milkshakes at reasonable prices (coffees start at $2.95 and shakes at $3.95). A variety of free teas are available in Lido Marketplace and the Havana Bar.
O.K., so the prices are pretty high ($0.33-0.75 per minute, depending on what package you buy) but for the first time onboard any ship, I had no problem getting online — and staying online.
Cloud 9 Spa
It’s Carnival’s biggest spa to date, with 16 treatment rooms, a large thermal suite complete with heated stone loungers, sauna and steam room. It’s well thought out, with a subtle, soothing design, and well positioned, below the Serenity decks.
Judging by the number of the kids on here all day — and their delighted shrieks — I think it’s safe to say that despite the problems at the start of Sunshine’s life, this is a huge hit.
Big, friendly and — most importantly for the older kids — cool, Camp Carnival on Sunshine is a real standout. Ideally positioned on Deck 10, on the same level as WaterWorks, the area is divided into four main sections, depending on age group. The really small ones get a little outdoor play area just for themselves as well as an indoor space; and the older you are, the more chairs, video games and space to hang out you get, culminating in what amounts to a hip nightclub — Club 02 — for the 15-17-year-olds. The space is well thought out, and the staff — as usual — is friendly and helpful.
When I read in Fun Times that “tonight you’re going to be treated to some of the biggest Rock hits from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s,” I groaned.I thought, can’t they think of anything more original? Well I eat my words. The show was in a word (or two): mind-blowing. I don’t want to give too much away, but the huge backdrop displayed a series of stunning graphics, which were incorporated into the show and used by the performers like virtual props throughout the songs. Scary, apocalyptic and whimsical all at the same time, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. And the music was pretty good too (if you like hard rock).
Hit & Miss
The Miss: Serenity flanks one side of the main pool deck and rises three decks — from 11 to 14, and all the way to the front of the ship. It’s a massive piece of real estate, in other words, from which Carnival — the ultimate family cruise line — has banned kids and effectively families. (Full disclosure: I have a young family). The explanation from Carnival is if you carry more people, parents need this space to get away from their kids (which I think is kind of sad), as well as couples seeking a quiet spot.
The Hit: It is a gorgeous space and beautifully designed, from the triple-height waterfall, to the plunge pool and the cabanas and dozens of deck chairs. And, if you have no kids (or if they are safely being entertained in Camp Carnival), it’s a wonderful spot to get away from it all. It never gets crowded and gets quieter and more serene the farther up and toward the front you venture. Plus unlike most other lines, there are no outrageous charges for the hire of cabanas: everything is free.
Patchy at best, downright rude at worst. This is the first time ever I have had less than top-notch service on a cruise ship. The major exception: the Sunrise Dining Room, where service — from the Maitre D down was outstanding.
Weirdly marooned in the huge open space that is now the Ocean Plaza, Alchemy doesn’t work on a number of levels. The first and most important is, it’s not its own room: it’s just a space, and it has to compete — unsuccessfully — with the live bands in the center of the room. If it were its own room, then it could probably work. Second the drinks are gimmicky and don’t taste great — why mess with a great drink like a mojito? Third, the design seems half thought out. People in lab coats and a wood-paneled backdrop like an Olde Apothecary don’t mesh with the main bar — which is just like any other bar on any other ship.
Read about the hits and misses from Carnival Breeze.
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