My wife and I, along with her parents, took our first large family vacation together. My wife and I are in our 20's and her parents are in their 50's so we had plenty of differing opinions regarding activities onboard. This was not a first time cruise for any of us but it was our first time on the Sunshine, or Destiny, as she was previously named. We read several reviews before leaving, where guests commented on various flaws in the ship; bad food, dripping from the ceiling, bad smells, ect... Needless to say we were ready for some bad situations but also took a lot of that with a grain of salt. I'll break this review into several parts for easy navigation.
Carnival Sunshine spotlights all of the best from Carnival. The food is excellent, the crew is friendly and approachable and the ship itself came out of its makeover looking and feeling new. If you can afford it, spring for the scenic ocean view or a balcony. Sea-day brunches will keep you coming back and the lasagna at the Cuccina will have you hooked on day one. Don’t be alarmed by a few drips, it is condensation from the A/C and not salt water.
This cruise will spoil you, the destinations are just a wonderful perk, and the true destination is the Sunshine herself.
Let me say that I had high hopes going in, after watching Carnival dump millions into this refit. We watched her progress with anticipation for a year as she transformed from Carnival Destiny into Carnival Sunshine, and boy oh boy was the wait worth it.
We loved the divided ship feeling, the adults seemed to congregate in the fore sections and the kids had the aft sections from deck 10 upward. The Serenity adult retreat spanned three decks on the fore section and had an abundance of not only seating but also seating types. Couches, lunges, deck chairs, hammocks and cozy two-person cabanas were in plentiful supply. It is to be expected that there will be a shortage of space on sea days, with over 2000 adults on board but port days were excellent for relaxing on the upper decks. Camp Carnival, Club o2 and Circle C were all located at the aft end of the ship, right below the Water Park and sport square. This meant that most of the time the kids were either at the aft of the ship or in the amidships section on the lido deck (deck 9).
We did notice some drips from the ceiling on the lower decks, to be expected on an almost 20 year-old ship. Mostly it appeared to be condensation from the air conditioning units, as the water was fresh and not salt. Crews were readily on hand to repair any drips that popped up.
As I said before, we have all sailed several times with Carnival and my in-laws and wife have sailed with Celebrity and Norwegian. The crew on this ship was easily able to rival any of the other lines. Our wait staff in particular deserves a big shout out. Zoran, Ronaldo and Jovan were all excellent and very friendly. Their food recommendations were always spot on; they really made us feel welcome. We actually went out of our way on most days to eat in the dining room when possible. Several times we ran into them individually in different parts of the ship and they always said “hi” or stopped for a chat. Our cabin stewards also deserve some high praise; they busted tail every day to make sure that our rooms were spotless.
My in-laws had an issue with their room that required Guest Services to handle. They booked through a Carnival agent, who informed them that the beds in their room would definitely go together into a King. Unfortunately this room was on deck 7, forward, and was very small. Due to the curvature of the bow the room was unable to accommodate a king bed. Guest services were great and had them in an ocean view room on deck 1 before dinner that night.
The entertainment staff did an excellent job at keeping everyone busy, even with the vast age differences on board. We never lacked for something to do, any time of the day. Even the activities done during the port days kept everyone happy. Jamie Dee is one of the best cruise directors that we have had the pleasure of sailing with.
Let’s start with the lido food from the marketplace, deck 9 aft. Typical buffet style food comprised of several fried dishes and some baked. Nothing to write home about honestly but good if you want a quick snack or just don’t want the hustle and bustle of the dining room.
Speaking of the dining room let me say that it was excellent. Breakfast choices left a bit to be desired but brunch, lunch and dinner were all worth the effort of getting there. Fresh fruit, steaks and chicken were evident in the taste and quality of the food. We ate at each sea-day brunch and were never left disappointed. Each brunch came with a basket of fresh baked pastries, always warm and tasty and the choices of dishes satisfied both breakfast and lunch tastes.
There were a few premium dining options on board and we tried both the Italian and Asian. For lunch both the Asian and Italian options were free but for dinner both were $12 per guest. Let’s start with lunch; Ji Ji’s served up Asian stir fry and the Cuccina served up custom ordered pasta and lasagna. The stir fry was typical of a Mongolian wok and the custom ordered pasta from the Cuccina gives endless options. By far, our favorite spot on the ship for lunch was the Cuccina for their lasagna. The meat was large hunks of roast, served with fresh tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella cheese, spinach and squash. The taste has to be experienced to be believed. My father-in-law and my wife both hate cooked spinach but dove into this like kids in a candy store. Please, if you sail on Sunshine do yourself a favor and get the lasagna for lunch. The seating area around the Havana bar also offers some of the best views and a bit more intimate environment for relaxing and eating.
We did have dinner at Ji Ji’s on our last port day; the tally came to $48 + tip and was worth every penny. Don’t let the stir fry at lunch give you the wrong impression of Ji Ji’s, it is a different animal at dinner. They serve premium, from scratch, Asian from various regions. We had chili shrimp, stock pig, pork belly, glazed duck and pepper beef. The duck was the highlight of the meal, contradicting everything I’d ever come to expect from duck. It was not the least big greasy, the fat having been properly rendered and the skin was very crispy and full of flavor.
My wife and I sprung for an upgrade, the scenic ocean view, category 6J. It cost an extra $14 per person, per day. The room itself was slightly larger than a standard ocean view with the same amenities. The room itself was located on deck 9, forward, right over the bridge. The front wall of our room was made entirely of glass, giving an awe inspiring view of the horizon. As we sailed from New Orleans there was quite the trip down the Mississippi. We all sat at the edge of the bed and watched the trip down the river. We decided that the window was a great upgrade but easily could have gone with the standard ocean view. If you have never done this room before but love a window in your room, this could be for you. I might even go so far as to say it rivaled a balcony, without the breeze.
We opted to take the Island Beach Break, which comprised of a 20 minute tender ride to a private beach for 4.5 hours. The tender was reserved for us and was very easy to board, no hustle and bustle wating for a tender to arrive. The beach was man made, about half a mile long and had plenty of beach chairs and picnic tables. We were able to get a picnic table under a palm tree and the staff were nice enough to bring over two beach chairs for us.
The island has two areas to swim, a shallow beach with barricade and a deeper open water area. Both swim spots have lifeguards. The facilities include a full service bar, equipment rentals, snack bar, bathrooms with running water and showers.
There is more to do on the island than just lounging around or swimming. My wife and I rented a kayak for $10 and took a tour of the mangroves on the island, learning about the history. It was our first kayak ever and the staff made it a breeze. The staff on the island strive to please, if you want it they can find a way to get it.
At the appointed time we boarded our tender and were taken right back to the boat again. I would suggest that anyone going on this excursion bring plenty of sunscreen, your pool towel from the ship, a hat, bathing suit and a bottled drink. You can buy most of that on the island but they don't mind if you bring your own.
This was our second trip to Cozumel and we used it as a down day. Shopping was great, the best of all the stops. Prices were very good and the cash back incentive was too good to pass up. From what we were told the Mexican government as hired a third party to reimburse shoppers up to 9% of the cos of their purchases. We filled out the paperwork at the office and in 45 days we should have about $35 put right back on our credit cards. This program was explained to us on the ship as well so we knew it was legit.
Things to look at in Cozumel: Pure vanilla extract is the cheapest you will ever find it in Mexico. 1 liter of vanilla will run you about $20 for artisan quality or $5 for the cheap stuff. Back in the states 0.5 oz runs about $5.
Tanzanite, if you haven't looked at it before, do it now. Diamonds are also a good find here. Most shoppers also want to see the local silver, it is mined locally so the prices are great. Only buy from the approved shops though.
Gumbalina Park was great! Our day started with a short bus ride across the second highest point on the island, which gave spectacular views of the island. The walk through the park was about 2 miles and we had the chance to see and handle a few of the animals. The monkeys were crowd favorites, climbing on heads and running down backs. If animals are not your thing, or you'd prefer to view them from a distance, you can opt out of holding them. Well worth the money but I would not suggest doing this tour when the weather is hot.