This was my 11th Carnival cruise. My last cruise on the Conquest in Oct of 2013 raised my expectations. I was excited to sail on the Sunshine and experience all of the Funship 2.0 enhancements, the Serenity area, and to experience the showroom lounge that transforms into the nightclub. This ship is visually pleasing, with nice bright spaces that are tastefully decorated. Overall I enjoyed the ship, but there are areas that could use improvement.
Embarkation: Overall smooth process. Travel to the port and parking was easy thanks to the abundance of well marked signs. Port baggage handlers tend to treat guests as someone checking into a correctional institution. I understand the baggage handlers do not work for Carnival, but they are tipped very well and could use a few lessons in customer service. I would recommend the cruise lines begin overseeing the quality of service offered for baggage drop off. Baggage handlers are also asking to see passports. I understand the need to see a boarding pass and photo ID to verify the checked baggage, but passports should only be checked by US Customs and cruise line agents. It was refreshing to finally walk into the terminal and be greeted by a Carnival agent--much friendlier and helpful. We were quickly directed to the VIP lounge where an agent checked us in and pointed us to the seating area. There is no longer a dedicated VIP seating area in the New Orleans terminal. We had to push our way through the general boarding crowd to make our way on to the ship. A designated VIP seating area would make the boarding process much smoother and less confusing.
Public Rooms: Most public areas are visually pleasing, fresh and enjoyable spaces.
The showroom lounge (Liquid Lounge) is a nice space that doubles as the ship’s nightclub; however, it is very small in relation to other ships and the number of people the cruise ship can accommodate. We had to line up at least 30 minutes prior to a show to guarantee we would have a seat or at least a decent one.
A dedicated nightclub open on all nights was missed.
No late night bar. Most Carnival ships have a bar that stays open until 5 am for the late night crowd; this ship did not.
The lobby is a nice with a fresh look, but seems smaller than most ships.
The “Ocean Plaza” area is nice; however it is too close to the Alchemy Bar. Live bands and karaoke in Ocean Plaza makes it difficult to talk to others and have a relaxing time while at the Alchemy Bar.
I normally like to visit the piano bar (Piano Bar 88 on this ship); however, it is inconveniently located on deck 4 instead of the promenade. It would be nice if the Alchemy Bar, Piano 88 and the nightclub were all located near each other since they tend to complement each other.
The casino offers many gambling options, but seemed smaller than other casino on ships the same size and maybe even smaller than casinos found on Fantasy class ships.
Pool and hot tubs were open to 3 am on most nights--very nice. The pool on the serenity deck was nice, but smaller than expected.
The serenity deck (really 3 decks) was outstanding. It offered a true getaway for adults with a nice waterfall in the background. The only negative is the lack of chairs. Hopefully Carnival will begin to enforce its policy of guests reserving chairs with towels and other objects to alleviate this issue.
Dining: There are several dining options to choose from.
The steakhouse was outstanding and conveniently located mid-ship on deck 4 near the atrium. Ji-Ji’s offers several Asian dishes, was well decorated, service was outstanding and the food was delicious.
The food at the Italian restaurant was okay; nowhere near the best I’ve had.
The food on the buffet was average for Carnival. The salad bar did not seem to have the big selection offered on other ships. The variety of food also seemed smaller although the lines were shorter than most ships. The eggs to order/omelet line is located near the Havana Bar at the back of the ship instead of near the normal buffet food. We didn’t find this out until the third day of the cruise.
Guys Burger Joint and the Blue Iguana Burrito Bar was great as to be expected.
The food in the dining rooms was very good. We switched to your time dining option a couple of years ago and normally never had to wait more than 10 minutes to get seated even with large groups on other ships. One night we were told the wait for a party of 3 would be 45+ minutes so we only ate in the main dining room two nights. Breakfast in the main dining room was outstanding: great selection of food and it was delicious. I tried to call for room service one night, but gave up after being on hold for over 20 minutes--fail.
The 24 hour pizza station on the Conquest spoiled me; this ship was a disappointment. There was always a long line or wait. One night we decided to wait for pizza: we were the only ones in line and it still took over 20 minutes for pizza to come out and when it did it was raw. I notified the guest services agent of this and was given a phone call that the problem was being looked into and would be corrected. I went to the pizza station the last night of the cruise and only waited about 10 minutes. The pizza was cooked and much better than the first time--still not on par with the Conquest.
Entertainment: I have mixed reviews in this area. First, the shows and the performers were nothing less than outstanding. I really enjoyed the “VIP Studio” show and how they transformed from the show to the nightclub. The Liquid nightclub was nice on the nights it was open and the lighting effects were the best I’ve seen. On every other Carnival cruise the nightclub is open every night and offers a nice place to socialize, especially on the first night of the cruise. I was told the nightclub on the Sunshine is not open the first or last nights of a cruise because they are the traditional slow nights. I was also informed the Havana Bar near the back of the ship stayed open until 2 am on the nights the nightclub is closed and offered music for dancing--that is not the case. It may be open later, but no one was back there and we were informed by the Havana Bar staff they could not treat it as a nightclub because guests of all ages were allowed to use that area at all times. I was confused by the answers…bottom line: adult entertainment = FAIL; expectations were not met.
Service: Overall the service was great. The bar staff on this ship was outstanding. Drinks were always great and were served fairly quickly. Ioana in the Alchemy bar is my one “by name” mention from this cruise. She was extremely attentive to our needs, made great drinks and gave us some of her mixology secrets to enhance our experience. Room service was great as usual.
Shore Excursions: There were a good number of shore excursions available. We booked all of our excursions online; however the shore excursion staff offered assistance with excursions and offered to allow us to change our existing ones…outstanding service.
Cabin: We booked a balcony cabin on deck 8. It seemed a little smaller than most Carnival staterooms I’ve stayed in before. It had a nice amount of storage space, great air conditioning control, a nice size flat screen TV, but no refrigerator. The bathroom was nice and included a larger shower than I’ve had on previous Carnival cruises.
Fitness/Recreation: The gym was great. It had more cardio machines than most ships I’ve been on. There were also a nice selection of weight machines. The gym hours were better than most ships I’ve been on as well. The one negative is it lacked a steam room in the men’s locker room. The large number of recreation options made it nearly impossible to become bored on the ship. The waterslides were awesome!
Debarkation: A mess. “Self-assist” luggage option delays the overall debarkation process. Too many people are using this option. Self-assist creates a gridlock effect on the ship. Everyone using self-assist clogs the elevators, hallways and other common areas. I strongly recommend Carnival minimize the number guests using the self-assist option and/or the size and number of bags people carry off the ship. As a VIP I normally exit the ship within an hour and a half after docking. We docked around 6 am, but were not allowed to exit until nearly 9 am.
Summary: It was a nice ship packed with many restaurants and entertainment options; however, I can’t recommend this ship for many of the people I normally travel with; however it is probably more appropriate for an older crowd and families traveling with small children that do not like to stay out late. It does not offer many of the traditional Carnival experiences I have come expect. The flow of the ship is confusing to me and many other I cruised with. I would be more apt to sailing on the Sunshine again if: another level was added to the show lounge, a dedicated night club was added and the ambiance of the Alchemy Bar was not ruined by the events taking place at “Ocean Plaza”