This was the first trip to the Eastern Hemisphere my wife and I had taken. I am 27 and she is 26. This was not a honeymoon cruise, just something we wanted to do before having kids made it difficult. We have both cruised Carnival before with a NCL cruise squeezed in the middle. Bear with me as i would like to cover a lot of things to get everything off my chest.
We started off with the standard red-eye US Airways Philadelphia to Barcelona international flight. I would recommend another airline if it is at all feasible, but it was pretty much our only decent option. We arrived the morning of the cruise at about 9 A.M.
The first problem with Carnival was almost immediate. We knew when we booked ahead of time we would have too much time to burn between landing and setting sail from Barcelona, so we booked a pre-cruise Barcelona shore excursion. We booked this on the Carnival website with the Airport transfer. When we claimed our bags after Spanish customs (which was a minor joke throughout the two week cruise, by the way) we were greeted by a Carnival representative.
This Carnival representative told us to give our checked bags to the porter and wait in a general wing of the airport. We did. We waited an agonizing long time with a big crowd of people. Finally, we were taken to the buses and the buses took us to the Port of Barcelona. At this point i knew something was wrong because our shore excursion should have all ready started. We waited and got on the ship with the expected waiting we did.
We immediately went to the shore excursion desk. We were told that we were emailed instructions with how to go on our pre-cruise excursion. No, we did not receive any email. Carnival credited us our shore excursion cost but we missed our opportunity to see Barcelona, so we started off the cruise frustrated with Carnival for a miss-step
Our Balcony room was 7289. Great in terms of floor location, 2 floors below the lido and sun deck, 2 floors above the ocean plaza and casino. No noise from either. But our room was located next to the stairway so it was a little noisy at times. The room was fine, my first balcony but it was a good room. The only negative was the people next to us and the TV stations were pretty terrible. Constantly losing signals and the audio was not synced to the video. Not a huge deal because i don't watch TV much while on a cruise.
Marseilles, France - Easily the least enjoyable port of the cruise. We booked the "Le Castellet & Bandol" excursion through Carnival and went to a port/tourist area for a couple hours and then to a Medieval Castle type town for a couple hours. Good sights but the bus ride was too long to justify it. Try something else here.
Livorno/Pisa, Italy - Took the "Leaning Tower of Pisa" Carnival excursion. This was a very good a photo intensive excursion. My only complaint is that you are not really given enough free time to enjoy the area. I would book something similar with more roaming time. (this was only a 4 hour tour)
Civitavecchia/Rome, Italy - We learned from Pisa and booked the "Rome on your own" carnival excursion. This was the highlight of the cruise. We had 8+ hours to roam Rome and see all the different architecture shops and sights. I recommend bringing your own detailed map as the Carnival provided map is a joke. We even were able to meet up with friends and enjoy local pasta. Didn't see the pope though.
Naples, Italy - We did not book and excursion in this port. Since the port of Naples is actually the thing I wanted to see, i decided to just get off the ship and walk around on my own. The city of Naples is actually pretty dirty and depressed. I was asked if i wanted to buy some IPhones from some locals for 5 euros, which is pretty funny. We eventually made our way to the nicer tourist-y places and some very nice architecture spots. Loved the castle. Overall, this was a weak point in the itinerary. Probably best to book an excursion. Although that seems like more of a "mask".
Dubrovnik, Croatia - Surprisingly one of the best ports on the itinerary. We booked the "Konavle Biking Tour" which was by far the best excursion of the cruise. Carnival lists the activity level as "Difficult" which is a complete joke, if you are in any kind of shape you will be fine. We finished up the tour (which was beautiful with a fresh-water sping and church mixed in) in a winery and sampled two wines and a cheese. We bought a wine and Olive Oil for the trip home. I highly recommend this tour.
Venice, Italy - Awesome! Having two days in Venice was a nice bonus to this itinerary. We walked around the streets ourselves with no tour. We discovered many beautiful structures and sampled the local culture. This is tied with Dubrovnik as the second best port.
Sicily/Messina, Italy - We booked the "Taormina & Beach Getaway" excursion through Carnival. Taormina is a cool little village with the standard tourist items and Gelato. We did most of our souvenir hunting here before heading to the beach. I loved the views and everything but the temperature of the Mediterranean. But hey, at least i can say i swam in it. Good port and good excursion, i would recommend it.
The ports were the best parts of the cruise. Now lets get into the Carnival Sunshine itself.
As mentioned before, our cabin was fine and complete, i read about the nightmares before our cruise but it was no problem on this one or for us.
The pool was closed for a couple days and Carnival gave us a credit. Good, i couldn't care less about the pool.
What i did care about was the lack of room to do anything in a common area on a sea day. Granted there are only three sea days on this cruise, but it was frustrating that only awful seats on the sun deck were open, almost all other common rooms would be full and all activities would all be taken. (i remember i couldn't even play billiards in the sky zone) Forget about bathing in the hot tub at any "peak" time as it will be filled with either kids at the lower level or adults in the serenity lounge. I finally got in the hot tub when the sun went down.
The comedians in the Limelight lounge were pretty good. The ones from the UK kinda sucked but the American ones were above average. I recommend seeing these guys even though the introductory people (Wally and the "tropical" girl from Canada) are tough to listen to.
The shows in the Liquid Lounge are pretty bad. We have had Kevin Noonan as a cruise director before and he was sadly the best entertainment there. The Marriage game and the Introductory show were the best parts. The Hasbro Gameshow would be the most boring show in the history of Nickelodeon if it was on TV (which it looks like it was a at some point). The singing and dancing shows never really interest me (even though i was laughing when they pulled cruisers up there to dance in the VIP show). The Juggler dropped things a few times and the mind reading guy was kind of impressive i admit.
The Sky Zone was pretty cool with the golf, basketball, billiards, ping pong, shuffle board, and ropes course. I did the water slides once to say i did them. Not bad for adults.
Overall i would say on a 12 day cruise the entertainment just ran out of entertainment. Everything got kinda of old and you can tell when they started repeating liquid lounge shows. The Sky Course / Sky Zone also got old fast on the 12 day trip.
Our fellow cruisers were mostly older folks. Some Europeans and Americans. You won't find much eye candy on this cruise. But the other side is much fewer kids, which is always a plus in my book.
I never took advantage of the Piano Bar or Library bar. I played poker in the casino (which is technically a rip-off with the rake) and won $800! I probably could have won more but i wanted to be fair to my wife.
The Alchemy Bar was by far the coolest thing on the ship. If i could go back i would spend more time there. Definitely check it out to get an inspired drink. The other bars were pretty mundane. I liked the idea of spiked milkshakes but really, getting a buzz with a milkshake is impossible. The Sports bar is a joke because they only played European sports in the middle of the NHL and NBA playoffs.
You can just bring wine/beer/liquor onto the ship anyway. Unlike other Carnival cruises there wasn't even a check-in station. The security guys seemed to not really care. Just put whatever you get in a bag and you will get through fine.
There were some technical problems with the sunshine. Loose floor boards, lights in the liquid lounge not working, audio during shows not working and other minor problems. They will probably fix these in the coming weeks.
Lido - Same exact options for breakfast everyday. The eggs never tasted fresh. I suggest getting omlettes in the Havana bar. I rarely came for other meals, but when i did it was mediocre food. They seemed to close the buffet islands in my face a lot too. I did like the grilled cheese sandwiches late at night. The Pannini bar is good as well as the pizza station - better than other carnival ships.
Guy's Burgers - Yummy, but bad as hell for you. You can just tell when eating it your heart is mad with you. Unfortunately this is your only option for food Mid-Day other than pizza. The toppings bar is great though.
Blue Iguana Cantina - I loved the Burritos it was only open from noon to 2:30 though, so i didn't get as many as i liked. IMO these hours should be extended. Not quite Chipotle but pretty good.
Sunshine Restaurant - Had anytime dinning with many servers and got mixed results. We finally learned the pattern. The wait staff makes no difference, you will have bad service (or i mean just long service) if the place is busy and good service if the place is not. The best time to go is 6:10ish. You will be hungry and get out at a decent time. There were days we waited an hour and a half for the whole meal and it was frustrating, just go at lower trafficked times.
Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse - Delicious super fattening meal. I loved every single course except for - ironically, the steak. I got the cowboy on the bone steak and i wouldn't recommend it here for anyone else. This place probably wasn't worth the $70 for two but i wanted to try it once.
I didn't try JiJi's or the Italian place.
Disembarkation was surprisingly smooth considering the crowdedness of the ship and what i have seen from past cruises i've been on. The post cruise transfer was fast and we got our luggage and everything went fine (until we got to customs that is).
To conclude everything - We had a great time and enjoyed the ports. The Carnival Sunshine itself left something to be desired. The service is always top notch but the entertainment, crowdedness, ship design, food left something to be desired.
All in all we are glad we took this cruise. But we won't look forward to go on the Carnival Sunshine again.