Hits and Misses: Live from Carnival Sunshine

July 22, 2013 | By | 6 Comments

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.
Hi-Speed Internet
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.
Camp Carnival
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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    6 Responses to “Hits and Misses: Live from Carnival Sunshine”

    1. Kevin
      July 24th, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

      I loved the ship, disagree on Adult area. I’m single and adults need a large pool area without screaming kids running wild, even Disney devotes huge pool areas to adult only, kudos to Carnival!!!!

    2. Dee Winchester
      July 24th, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

      We just returned Friday, July 19th from the 12 day Sunshine cruise from Barcelona. Beautiful ship !
      Hits: Red Rum Bar service/wait staff. After walking for 2 days in Venice, my ankles were unreconizable. Waiter Desmond noticed and brought me a ziplock bag of ice from the bar to ice down my feet. What service !!
      Entertainment: The comedians were top notch and made stalkers of our group !
      Cucina del Capitano: Excellent food and wait staff made the experience one of a kind to remember.
      Guy Fieri’s burgers: BEST Burger EVER !!
      Misses: Internet connections was S L O W. Not the worth the money charged. Very disappointed.
      Sunrise Dining Room: Slow service, a wait for 30 + minutes for a table. Very unorganized in my opinion.

      I would recommend this ship/cruise to everyone !

    3. Deb
      July 24th, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

      Also just returned from Carnival Sunshine 12 day on July 19th. MISSES: I agree that service in Sunrise Dining room was S L O W. We were often late for shows, even after allowing 2 hours for dinner. There was no cigar bar, even though initial advertisements said there was one. I thought the comedians were mediocre at best..walked out of one of them it was so bad. For us, overall entertainment was lackluster as compared to other cruises we have been on. HITS: Embarkation was fast and painless. Kudos Carnival. Farenheit 555 was awesome and worth every penny. Ports of call–outstanding, but Carnival did guests a disservice by not informing them of the shuttles to the people mover when in Venice. Most everyone was totally lost and wandering around when they disembarked. Makes you wonder if they did this on purpose, because you didn’t sign up for their tour. Rooms were clean, fresh and comfortable. I would take another CArnival cruise again. They have made many improvements since my last experience 8 years ago, especially the food. Very good.

    4. Cathy and Rich
      July 24th, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

      We too sailed on the Sunshine 12 day Mediterranean Cruise July 7-19. Loved it!
      -The wait staff for dinner in the sunset dining room were great! Tatyana, Milan and Mario were the best. Attentive and friendly.
      -Loved the adults only serenity deck.
      -Ship was clean…Rooms were great.
      -Dinners were excellent. Also loved Guys burgers and the grilled sandwiches at the deli. Wish they could change it up a bit at the breakfast buffet. Same old thing served everyday!!!
      -like I just said…breakfast at the buffet…monotonous!!!
      -Messed up our luggage coming and going. We were priority but didn’t get our luggage any sooner than anyone else. And leaving, we waited on the curb at the airport for a ridiculous amount of time for our luggage…some people even missed their plane!
      -Stayed at a hotel suggested by Carnival in Barcelona…Tryp Appolo..never again. Rude employees. The only one that smiled was the bell-hop. The desk personnel was not helpful at all.
      – Hard to get a chair on serenity. I would rather pay for a chair (Like on Princess serenity deck) than have to worry about losing my chair when I go to the bathroom. Stickers with times were placed on the chair when you left and it was unclear even by employees how long you had before your chair could be taken. I was told three different times by ship employees…20, 40 and 45 minutes. I witnessed two fights by passengers about this issue!! Unnecessary.

    5. Forest
      January 22nd, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

      Well I do think that most things on a ship can be hit or miss depending on that particular ship, crew, itinerary, and weather. That being said one of your misses and your hit & miss were the best part of our cruise on the Sunshine over Christmas. I found the ship to be a cramped version of the Breeze and the weather was awful, the Alchemy bar and the Serenity area were the two things that made the cruise bearable! Granted I see your views on the Serenity area in regards to families with small children, but compared to the Breeze it is an incredible upgrade imo. As far as the Alchemy bar it must depend on the bartenders because on my cruise everyone absolutely LOVED that bar. I still remember our bartenders name that we went to every night, Daniel, and I am sorry to admit I never remember the names of service people from anywhere! We had multiple drinks there before and after dinner every night and it seemed to us like the best kept secret on the entire boat. Service in general was a bit of a miss as most people seemed to have no clue at all what was going on outside of the deck they were mopping or dishes they were picking up. Food is always up for debate but when the burgers and pizza get better reviews than your dinning room it isn’t the best sign is it? Just booked Sunshine again out of FL so we will see how they adjust going forward.

    6. Scott Bachmann
      May 20th, 2014 @ 9:42 pm

      Took an 8-night Eastern Caribbean in April.
      • The omelets and eggs-any-way-you-want-them in the Cucina del Capitano
      • Guy’s Burgers
      • The family friendly comedy shows
      • Our stateroom steward (“Widi”) was awesome.
      • Sunset Dining Room staff were great.
      • The green & blue “Speedway” water slides
      • The framed Mark Ingram jersey in the EA Sports Bar…Roll Tide!
      • The outdoor movies
      • The incessant noise on deck 9. Line dances, DJs & twerking contests? No thank you.
      • Room service menu could stand a few more options.
      • The only swimming pool is tiny.
      • The super-slow “Twister” water slide
      • The “Sky Course” is more challenging than fun.
      • Photos are ridiculously overpriced.
      • Internet is expensive. Then again, you’re on a cruise for cryin’ out loud. Why in the world would you be wasting time on digital distractions?
      • Carnival, please don’t make the main dining room staff get up on tables and do goofy dances. It’s just not necessary.

      This isn’t Carnival’s fault, but I saw enough boobs, butts and bellies to last me the rest of my life. People just don’t care anymore. BIG ol’ people with way-too-small swimsuits, just sprawled out all over any chair they could find, with skin that already looked like aged leather before the cruise ever started. Immodest and unhealthy.

      But overall, the Sunshine was a great place to spend a week. Would do it again in a heartbeat.

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