My husband and I booked this cruise as an easy and cost-effective way to get a taste of Italy and other Mediterranean ports while sharing the experience with our two sons who are in their early 20's. We all had a wonderful time, although our sons probably would have preferred a shorter cruise of 7 days rather than 12 days.
Barcelona: We flew into Barcelona two days early for some sightseeing on our own and we all loved Barcelona! Beautiful city with lots to do. We stayed at the Hotel Gaudi one block off the Ramblas and spent extra to get a Superior Room on the top floor with a huge terrace overlooking the city. Well worth the extra expense. Nice local hotel with an excellent location. I highly recommend the Bus Turistic, a double-decker hop-on hop-off bus that has three separate routes: Blue line (north including Sagrada Familia and Camp Nou/Barcelona football stadium), red line (Montjuic and site of the Olympic stadium), and green line (Barcelona beaches). We bought a two day pass and rode all three lines and it was definitely a great way to see much of the city and get to the various attractions. One tip: Everyone wants to sit on the top of the bus so there were long lines waiting while buses would leave half empty. Go to the attendant at the front and tell him/her that you'd be willing to sit down below. Once people on the top start leaving at various stops, you just take the stairs up to the top and get one of the prime spots. We used this strategy successfully several times.
Embarkation in Barcelona Port: We took a taxi to the port around noon and were on the ship less than an hour later - very efficient.
Marseille: We took a taxi to the main tourist area Vieux Port and then took Le Petit Train to Notre-Dame de la Garde. Both the train ride along the waterfront and the basilica on the hill were highlights for us. We also enjoyed walking through Le Panier District (Old Town) and wish we had more time to spend in Marseille. The port was much nicer than I expected.
Livorno: This was the first of three private tours we booked in advance with Best Limos in Rome. The ship was late arriving in port (medical emergency) so it shortened our time in this port. We briefly visited Pisa and then on to Florence. Our tour guide Stephano was excellent - so entertaining - and our tour (8 of us in a minivan)included entrance to the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David. So awe inspiring in person! While I expected to have several hours on our own in Florence to sightsee and shop, it ended up being pretty rushed. Still, it was a great day and even the ride back to the ship was scenic through the Tuscan countryside.
Rome: Another private tour with Best Limos in Rome. I knew this day would be exhausting with so many sights packed into so little time, but I couldn't imagine going to Rome and not visiting the Coliseum and the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Vatican. While St. Peter's Square and the Sistine Chapel were amazing, the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds were overwhelming and detracted from the experience. I'd love to go back to Rome (and Florence) in a more leisurely manner.
Naples: Our family split up and husband and younger son took the hydrofoil to Capri for a leisurely day there, while older son and I opted for another Best Limos in Rome tour of Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. We all enjoyed a somewhat less structured day of sightseeing after Florence and Rome. The Amalfi Coast was stunning - scenic road high above the coastline - and we ended up also going over the mountains (detour due to road construction) which was beautiful. Little towns, terraced vineyards - but very windy road so beware if you are prone to carsickness. Visited lovely town of Amalfi - very reasonably priced bottles of organic Limoncello liquor - and brief stop in Salerno on way back to Pompeii. Due to detour, no time for Sorrento. Pompeii was interesting and definitely worth seeing but I enjoyed the time in Amalfi more.
Dubrovnik: After a much needed day at sea, we visited Dubrovnik on our own. Only port that doesn't use Euros and, apparently since they aren't part of the European Union, you need your passport to get on and off the ship. Friendly people and stunning views from the walkable Town Walls. We wanted to take the cable car to the top of Mount Srd but it was closed due to windy conditions. We did enjoy drinks at Buza - a tip in Rick Steve's guide book about two "hole in the wall" bars outside the city walls perched above the ocean. Word of caution: If you have bad knees, be forewarned that the city walls (and streets) involve a lot of steps and climbing.
Venice: We arrived in Venice mid afternoon and you get a great view of the city as the ship approaches dock. It is a little trickier than I imagined getting into the heart of the city from the cruise dock if you take the public transportation. You have to walk over some parking lots (couple of blocks) to a "people mover" monorail. You buy a ticket to the people mover for a ride that takes maybe 3 minutes to the Piazzale Roma station where you walk another block to stand in line to buy another ticket (ours was a 24 hour pass) for the vaporetto (water bus). Riding the vaporetto is pretty simple, although they can be very crowded with standing room only. Venice is truly beautiful and so unique. Although we enjoyed visiting St Mark's Square, our favorite memory is starting out early the next morning and walking the length of the city through non-touristy neighborhoods. Venice was not one of my "must see" vacation stops, and I was completely surprised how enchanting I found the city, overrun by tourists (like us!) and all. This is the only port where the cruise ship remains overnight so you do have the luxury of staying out late. However, while the vaporetto service continues into the night, the people mover monorail closed early (9:00pm or 10:00pm) the Sunday night we were there.
Sicily: Messina, Sicily was the only port where we signed up for a Carnival excursion - Taormina and Beach Getaway. Taormina is a charming resort town about an hour's drive from Messina. The drive is scenic and the town is too, perched high above the coastline with an ancient Greek amphitheater still in use. We spent the morning here, touring, shopping and having a lovely sidewalk café lunch (with the requisite yummy cannoli) before heading to the private beach portion of our excursion. It was a white sandy beach complete with beach chairs (included) and umbrellas (extra), changing rooms and a snack bar where you can get a beer. The water - Bay of Naxos - was very cold. We all enjoyed this excursion.
Carnival Sunshine: We were on the third cruise after dry dock refurbishments and most of the earlier issues had already been resolved. We had two interior rooms which were adequate and clean. As others have noted, the TV system was terrible - very few program choices (mostly Carnival)and sound problems. While no one - I hope - goes on a Mediterranean cruise to watch TV, it would have been nice to get news (in addition to BBC off hours news)and a sports channel or two. We thought the public areas were very nice, although the ship layout was initially a little confusing to us. The sunning decks were very crowded on sea days, but I think that is to be expected, and other than the morning traffic jam at the breakfast buffet, we never really had any issues with overcrowding.
Food and Drink: We thought the food was excellent. While the breakfast buffet offered almost the same items every morning, there were plenty of choices. We had lunch on the ship only on sea days and liked both Guy's Burgers and the Blue Iguana burritos (although the serving times were short). We ate dinner every night in the main dining room - Your Time Dining - and we never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a table. There was something for everyone on the dining room menu, including more adventurous choices (frogs legs)as well as healthy and comfort food choices. We were so pleased with the food in the main dining room that we were never motivated to try the fee extra choices, although I heard they were excellent as well.
With this being vacation, the four of us consumed our fair share of alcohol. Yes, the drinks are overpriced, but I think everybody knows that going in. We thought the Alchemy Bar was a real standout. As others have mentioned, it is possible to "smuggle" a bottle of wine or liquor purchased on shore in your day pack and the Carnival security attendants don't seem to notice. However, I do think you are pushing your luck to try to get more than one bottle onto the ship at a time, and we did see a few bottles confiscated at reentry (until the end of the cruise).
Entertainment: We came on this cruise to see Europe, not stage shows, so the entertainment wasn't a priority for us. However, we thought the cover band Rock and Roll Time Machine playing in the Ocean Plaza was very talented. We also enjoyed the comedians Rondell Sheridan and Larry Omaha and the audience participation part of ventriloquist Phil Hughes act was also very entertaining. Overall, we didn't feel that the on-board entertainment was compelling. Pet peeve: They turned off the outdoor movie Casablanca half way through because not enough people were on the deck watching. Two other pet peeves: Hard sell at the spa to buy additional treatments and products, and a complete lack of port information/maps if you didn't sign up for Carnival's excursions (tip - bring your own guide books/maps).
Service: We had excellent service. Staff was helpful and polite. Our room was cleaned promptly. Our billing was accurate - no surprises. We were happy to pay the gratuity billed to our account at the end of the cruise - the staff works hard and more than earns their pay.
Embarkation: We carried our own bags off and got a taxi to Barcelona airport. Super quick and super efficient. Couldn't be better.
Bottom line: We had a great time! The trip was everything we hoped it would be! Each port had its own charms but our favorites were Barcelona, Amalfi/Capri, and Venice. We were not disappointed in the Carnival Sunshine, even if we were occasionally disappointed in our fellow passengers (a few of them). This cruise is an excellent value and we'd love to do it again.