Just returned from the Barcelona to Venice cruise on the Sunshine. Overall a great time and we (now VIFP Platinum) will sail again with Carnival. Embarkation was very easy. We arrived about 11:30 (half our group voted for 2 but the early time won). We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before and they arranged for taxis for us. We were eight in our group, my husband's almost 92 year old father, his girlfriend (83yo), my husband and myself (both 55), my daughter and her husband (both 29) and my son and his girlfriend (26 and 27). We were advised to let the rest of the group go through the regular line, we went to the VIP area and then we met up and all got on board together with our VIP pass. Our room was the only one ready so we put all the carry-ons in our room and were on our way. We are accustomed to bringing the allowed amount of water on-board and we stopped at a local grocer near our hotel and picked that up the night before the cruise.
We had a mid-ship balcony and the rest were across the hall from us in inside rooms. The closet configuration was a little different than other balcony cabins we've had and actually there was more closet space (we travel light anyway). There was actually three American outlets and one European which was nice (look by the TV for the third outlet). The interior rooms were comfortable.
I think more than on other cruises, staff addressed us by name and most spoke good English. Andy was our room steward and was basically good, although he made a few mistakes like forgetting to replace our beach towels. Similarly the wait staff seemed to know English better than on other cruises and dinner was typical Carnival Fare. No problem. We saw no reason to spend extra for the steakhouse or other alternative venues. The only problem with dining is that it didn't seem right to have the anytime dining on the lower level and the fixed time above. When the staff did their show on the lower level, it was half empty. We like eating breakfast in the dining room, the highlight being sitting with random people. The morning hostess did not seem to understand this so half the time my husband and I ate alone.
The new features on the ship were nice. The color scheme was more "modern" and less gaudy than many of the ships. There was also a lot of multipurpose rooms, including the main theater. The biggest item to note is that the omelet bar and Mongolian barbecue are in the Havana lounge instead of the middle of the Lido deck. I think it took people a while to find it so there seemed to be o f a line and when there was a line it wasn't "in traffic"
We enjoyed the sports square area. I was a little surprised to see them leave out the equipment for golf, pool, ping pong, etc. but it was less windy than in the Caribbean. I usually love trivia games and the ones I attended were new but our itinerary didn't allow for a lot of typical cruise activities. I was disappointed to see them eliminate the jazz band but the multimedia replacement was fine. I'm not a night person but the shows and comics were typical and generally enjoyable. The piano bar was packed every night it was open and the lobby musicians were good. (they played mostly 60's-80's music). The biggest problem in the entertainment area was the lights on the stairs in the Liquid Lounge. The are white LED, very closely spaced. I don't wear glasses and they bothered me, my husband and daughter who are nearsighted had great difficulty with them.
Internet was what we expected from a 54K connection. It did seem to slow down during what I assume were "peak" times.
I think a few things aren't finished. There were some stairwells without art and clocks and the TV pretty much only had ship channels. Some of the ship information, like the debarkation instructions, were not shown as promptly as I would have liked. We did not have air conditioning problems but they seemed to be working on the A/C in our hall during the trip.
In general the information provided about getting on and off the ship was good. The worst case was Venice. I think written directions with a map would have helped. The nice thing was that we arrived at noon instead of 2 so we had more time. My husband and I were one of the first ones off . We walked to the people mover which took us to where the water busses were located. I heard however that behind us the lines got very long for the people mover and we were not told that there actually was a waterbus near the boat without taking the people mover. There were a few regular taxis waiting by the ship and we did book one (for 10Euro a person) to take us to the airport. We were a little surprised that they wanted everyone off the boat by 9am (debarkation started at 430am but, per their announcement, by 645am only 10% had disembarked. If you take your own luggage off you had to be off by 730am. I don't know what they would have done if you didn't but basically I think they were closing the deck zero exit and there would have been a lot more stairs, etc from the main exit.
We usually take ship excursions but with a group of 8 I did make some private arrangements. Basically most of the people advertising on-line are "drivers". Drivers can tell you about the area from the car but they can't lead you around sites, etc. We could have hired tour guides from these companies for additional cost but we didn't. In light of this I should have probably printed more information about the sites and/or purchased guidebooks in advance. For example at the coliseum we looked around and said "ok, now what" - so I went to the bookstore and bought a guidebook. On the ship excursions I did like that they staged us in the lounge and then we went down to the buses as a group.
All in all we enjoyed the ports, it was however hot and if we did it again we would not go in July. It made travel a little more complicated but the one way trip was nice because it allowed more ports.
I would recommend arriving one to two days before the cruise. Too many chances of travel issues when going so far from home.