DW and I have 23 cruises in our history, mostly with Carnival. (since they home port in New Orleans year round, and we are only a bit more than one hour from that Port) We have cruised on other lines as well, so we do have some 'point of reference'. I don't consider myself either a 'cheerleader' nor a 'basher', and I know that every review (and every cruise) is a unique experience for every passenger...... I hope this review proves of value to those who are considering sailing Sunshine in the future.
The ship itself was quite nicely done. When you consider the age of the 'frame', it's obvious that you can make a very substantial and meaningful impact on the vessel when you put $200,000 in the investment. There were very few signs of the 1996 "Destiny", but if you looked closely enough, there were just enough edges and corners that showed some wear and tear ......... which is the source of the 'not quite new' in the title.
I did see one of the famous 'buckets' catching a drip from the ceiling in the hallway on our deck (8). The bucket was there for only one day, but the mechanics were working on that area on and off over a three day span. I never personally encountered any evidence of the 'sewerage' smell some folks refer to, but DD (who was on deck 7) did say there was one evening when the smell was pretty bad in the Liquid Lounge late one evening. Overall, I thought the ship was quite nicely executed and while the layout might seem 'congested' we never really encountered a problem with the public areas being 'over crowded'. On the return trip, in the Florida straights, the ship's information on the TV was reporting winds of over 60 MPH, but the ship always seemed very stable, so no complaints there. The Serenity area is remarkable and we enjoyed our time there........ our course you have to work around the chair hogs, and Carnival still seems to have a hard time finding a 'happy medium' when it comes to enforcing the limitations with regards to both chair hogs and kiddos being in that area.
Overall the service on board was good. Not amazing, not the best ever, but good. Our cabin steward team were friendly, but for some reason keeping the cabin provided/supplied with ice seemed to be a challenge (on a side note, DW has meds that require refrigeration, so our first stop was at Guest Services to request a refrigerator.......this was at about 11:30 AM. We then saw our cabin steward for the first time, and requested ice, to hold the meds pending the fridge being delivered. At 5:30, still no ice, still no fridge, so I took the meds to the medical center and had it held there. If this is a need you have, I suggest you save yourself the frustration and just plan on letting the medical center hold for you. When we got back to the cabin after dinner, THERE was the fridge, which we had removed ......since it was no longer needed.) Ice did not get delivered till the next day. DW and I did both notice that the members of the crew seemed more engaged and outgoing and friendly than the members of the staff (officers and such). I don't think we ever encountered a member of the staff that said 'hello' or 'good morning' or even shared a 'nod' unless we made first effort. This is the only time we've ever encountered that on any of our cruises. Normally, the staff/officers are much more outgoing and engaging.
Key West was the only port where we booked an excursion. We did the 'hop on/ hop off' with the Butterfly tour, and were very pleased. DD and DGK were in another cabin on board, and they joined us. DGK is 9, and I thought we were going to have to drag her out of the butterfly museum........... so very beautiful and relaxing. DD had also never been to a Margaritaville, and since DW and I are Parrotheads, we did stop there for lunch, and had a great time, as always.
In Freeport we did some light shopping at the 'port' shops, and in Nassau we just stayed onboard and enjoyed having the Sunshine to 'ourselves'. This cruise was more about 'getting away' than it was about 'doing' anything in particular.
We were in Cabin 8328, which is an aft wrap. DW and I both agree this was the best cabin we've ever had on a cruise..............even better than the suite we once treated ourselves to. The shape is strange, but with 12 feet of balcony on the port side and nearly 30 feet of balcony on the aft, it was AMAZING. There was lots of furniture, and lots of room...........so the four of us spent LOTS of time there. I was concerned about the possibility of noise from the Havana Club above us, but the cabin was very, VERY quiet....... One note, if you have a third person in that cabin, the bed for the third person is for a small third person. I am not certain the pull out of that couch would fit an adult, unless they were on the small/short side.
We selected 'your time dining', and were confirmed, but were assigned 'late' dining in error, so we spent an hour on day one to meet with the Maitre D and have that corrected. First time we've ever had a cruise line make that error.
The main dining room good was good, not spectacular. We found the JiJi's and Italian lunch options to be wonderful. Not big fans of the 'sea day brunch' program.........and surprisingly I was not impressed by Guy's Burgers. While they are a step above the 'grill' burgers from the old 'lido deck', they are certainly not anywhere in the top range of burgers....... and man, the style of fries they were serving were not my taste, at all. Limp and greasy. On the other hand, the hotdogs served at Sea Dogs and at the 'Deli' on Lido deck were awesome.
We did the steakhouse on day one, and must say the 18 oz prime ribeye they prepared was on par with steaks we've enjoyed from Morton's as well as Ruth's Chris. Wonderful marbling and prepared to wonderful medium-rare perfection. We treated ourselves to Ji Ji for dinner one evening as well......and again, it was wonderful. I am a bit torn by the whole concept of 'pay for meals' on cruises, since we are old enough and have been cruising long enough to remember when main dining room meals used to be outstanding and impressive............... of course, adjusted for inflation, cruising is much less expensive today.............so I suppose that's the trade-off.
We attended the Epic Rock and Latin shows in the Liquid Lounge (none of the shows we attended were full, so the size of the showroom might be adequate, after all. I am pushing 60, but have to say I thought the new shows were better than the old 'vegas style' reviews. They music selections were 'rock anthems' and some Latin classics (Miami Sound Machine) so that appealed to my 'old' self, but the production and arrangements were obviously aimed at a younger crowd.........so I think I applaud Carnival for trying something new. Can't say I missed the live orchestra, but I still miss the steel drums......... somehow that still 'defines' tropics for me. The comedians we caught (one was Mutzie ( New Orleans native) and the other was a Blanchard from Canada, were both quite good. While the Limelight Lounge was full for all shows, I don't know that folks were 'turned away'. We found if we walked up after the 'line' had made its way into the venue, we were able to find seats.
DW can only walk limited distances, so we took advantage of the wheel chair assisted debarkation. We are group 1, but DD was group 9. We waiting until group 9 was called, made our way to the designated waiting area, and were assisted off the boat, so debarkation was a breeze.
In summary, we had a BLAST on the Sunshine. DGK and DD loved the waterworks........... we all enjoyed the R&R, we all enjoyed the huge balcony.
(By the way, we booked Dream for Mardi Gras 2015 while on board, so that was a treat as well)
Sunshine is a very good rework of an existing ship........... and when you consider new builds are so VERY much more expensive than the $200 million they invested in Sunshine, I think it was probably a brilliant move. If they decide to do this to other ships, however, I hoped Carnival has learned the P.R. lesson that you never refer to anything as NEW unless it is NEW.