Carnival Sunshine is not a new ship; it's a completely refurbished 17-year-old ship -- formerly Carnival Destiny -- with an array of new features that include bars, restaurants and entertainment venues, 182 new cabins and even a new partial deck.
In fact, if you sailed on Destiny, you would be hard-pressed to recognize where it ends and Sunshine begins because the changes are so profound. (A number of crew we spoke to couldn't recognize the old ship.) A few features remain -- the bizarre copper-colored corrugated iron structures on the areas leading to the corridors and the palm tree designs that punctuate the spaces between cabins -- but otherwise, the ship is all Sunshine.
In 2012, Carnival decided to overhaul Destiny to include all of the elements of the "Fun Ship 2.0" program, the half-billion-dollar fleetwide identity program that focuses on food, booze and entertainment. So, in April 2013, it went into dry dock in Italy for its $155 million, 49-day transformation.
It emerged in May, a little heavier at 102,853 tons, and with more capacity at 3,006 passengers. The makeover was so extreme that Carnival renamed it Sunshine. The changes were not just cosmetic: Carnival also replaced the elevators, air-conditioning units, electrical stations and laundry machines. The new equipment is designed to reduce fuel consumption as part of Carnival's attempts to move to a greener fleet.
So what's the "new" ship like?
The Fun Ship 2.0 blueprint was laid down first on Carnival Magic in 2011, then Carnival Breeze in June 2012. Although Sunshine isn't a Dream-class ship, it does contain almost all of the elements found on Magic and Breeze: low-commitment, high-energy offerings that include 20-minute standup comedy routines, 30-minute production shows and fast-food sushi, burgers and burritos. The dining and drinking include a burger counter designed by spiky-haired Food Network personality Guy Fieri, a rolled-to-order Mexi-Cali burrito stop and a pair of Caribbean beach bars with mascots (RedFrog and BlueIguana) and booze specialties (rum and tequila, respectively).
To offset these temples to unhealthy eating, there are two new Asian restaurants onboard: Bonsai Sushi, a for-fee, sit-down Japanese restaurant, and Ji Ji, a truly outstanding restaurant offering pan-Asian cuisine.
The new entertainment offerings, which include three up-tempo production shows, have been scaled up in terms of impressive lighting, outstanding graphics and sound, and pared down in terms of running length.
The design throughout is also radically different from that found on the old Carnival ships, as former designer Joe Farcus' garish color schemes give way to the more understated designs of Hamburg-based Partner Design. Colors are subtle, and the palette throughout -- from the main dining rooms to the corridors and cabins -- is distinctly muted. Certain areas -- the corridor on Deck 5 with Fahrenheit 555, the Piano Bar, Ocean Plaza and the main dining rooms -- could actually do with more decor, as they're so featureless.
What you come away with is the distinct feeling that there has been a quiet revolution going on, with a triumph of style over tack. In fact, there are certain areas of the ship, such as the Library Bar, Java Blue, Havana Bar, Fahrenheit 555 and Ji Ji, where you'd be hard pressed to tell this was even a Carnival ship. These changes point the way to where the line is going -- attracting a clientele with more sophisticated tastes and palates, and one that expects variety and quality.
Having said that, Sunshine still attracts Carnival's bread-and-butter passengers: "Middle America," as President and C.E.O. Gerry Cahill describes them. They're the unpretentious, highly social, price-conscious cruisers out for organized fun. (The relentless emphasis on fun at all times is still ever-present onboard.)
Carnival is clearly listening to passengers, too: the adults-only Serenity space, for example, which sits next to the waterslides on Breeze, has been placed at the opposite end of the ship on Sunshine. It also has been significantly expanded to cope with an increased demand for adults-only spaces (ironic, considering the line carries more kids than any other line). And Cucina del Capitano is not located under the basketball court, as it is on Breeze, so diners no longer have to compete with the din above.