This was our first Carnival cruise, though we’ve previously cruised Royal Caribbean and Princess. We chose the Carnival Sunshine for airport and itinerary reasons, but mostly because it (or Royal Caribbean) seemed like the choice for our first cruise with our 4 year-old granddaughter. Her parents didn’t want us to take her on a Disney cruise without them. “We” are: Dee (me), Ted (my husband), and Evelyn (our DGD)
We’d read a lot of negative reviews about the Sunshine, but have often been surprised in the past by some traveller’s unrealistic expectations. From the cruise reviews, we expected a crowded pool and average food, but a fun, family focused cruise.
First a word about our pre-cruise Carnival experience. I booked the cruise online myself and when I called Carnival with a few questions I got timely, appropriate help.
We wanted, but by no means needed, a table for 3 in the main dining room for dinner. Based on suggestions here on cruise critic, I emailed the maître d for the Sunshine and asked if it were possible to get a table for three. He wrote back within 15 minutes to confirm. Wow!
Similarly, questions I had about my account and Fun Shop purchases were dealt with quickly, efficiently, and pleasantly.
Colour me impressed with pre-cruise customer service.
We live in Alberta, where winter and weather are often unpredictable and cancelled flights are not outside the norm, so we arrived at the Orlando airport two days before our scheduled sailed date. One day to chill after our five hour flight, and then a day at Sea World.
DAY 1 – Embarkation – Port Canaveral
Our cabin, 5347, was an aft balcony on the Promenade deck, on the same deck as the Alchemy Bar, Red Frog Pub, Casino, the Warehouse, Cherry on Top, EA Sports Bar, Fun Hub, Liquid Lounge and the Ocean Plaza. Below us, the Sunrise Dining Room, above us, cabins. Twelve days before we sailed we did get an upsell call for grand suite at a total cost of $800. We declined, partly because we felt it was still too much, partly because we were really looking forward to our aft balcony.
I’d planned lots of Seuss-ish things for this cruise and we started with the “Cat’s Cabin Sweet Pack” decorations – Seuss themed decorations and cookies waiting for us when we opened the cabin door.
Our room was spacious enough for the three of us, with more-than-adequate storage. The balcony was a comfortable size with two loungers, a chair, and a small table. We didn’t experience any of the shuddering or noise that we’d read other reviews complain about. We did have a little of the black soot(?) that others had reported, but it was minimal and we probably wouldn’t have noticed it, save for having read others talk about it.
Nita, our steward, introduced herself early and did a good job of keeping our room clean and leaving behind towel animals.
Because we were travelling with our granddaughter, we decided to stick primarily with ship excursions. First time alone with her on vacation and we didn’t want to give her parents any reason to say no when we ask again. :-)
We chose the Carnival Dolphinaris Dolphin Encounter. Evelyn was too little to swim with the dolphins, but we thought she’d enjoy Dolphinaris and the “encounter”. She did.
We’ve done a number of Dolphin swims in the past and this was much like those. It was our granddaughter’s first. One thing I didn’t like was that the photographer insisted on taking all our photographs individually – no group shots. It would’ve been nice to have a shot of the three of us together with the dolphin, but of course, one photo doesn’t generate the revenue that three does.
Food was included in the price of the excursion – hot dogs, hamburgers, salads.
We chose Carnival’s Beach Cabana Rental on Mahogany Bay, despite Evelyn’s concerns about the flying chair. :-)
Oh. My. God. Spectacular beach. The private cabana was air conditioned and housed a v-shaped sectional sofa, coffee table, small fridge, ceiling fan, mini safe, free wifi access, and flat screen tv (which of course we didn’t even turn on). We stepped out onto a deck with two lounge chairs and an assortment of floaties.
Ten steps away was a double hammock suspended beneath a shaded pergola with … oh, I swoon at the memory … a series of misters that pointed to the hammock and kept its occupant pleasantly cool.
In front of that was a padded two person lounger that looked out on to the awesome beach and crystal clear water.
Best shore excursion ever.
Drinks and food were supplied at an extra charge from Fat Tuesday’s. The area sported eight? Ten? private rentals such as ours and had a dedicated waiter who kept us supplied with food and drink.
The excursion lists as $225/adult and $225/child, but in actuality it’s $225 per cabana rental for four and includes unlimited chairlift rides. More than four people and there’s a surcharge. Well worth it.
I scanned the any of the negative reviews of this excursion simply because I couldn’t believe anyone could possibly have a negative view of it. Here’s what the complaints were:
• Long line-up (1 hour wait) to board the chairlift to get to the beach. We didn’t experience this. There were perhaps a half dozen people in front of us at the chair lift and we only waited a couple of minutes. The chair ride over the beach and vegetation was spectacular. On our way back we considered doing a couple of runs just on the chairlift, as we saw another family doing. There were several other ships in port that day, though I couldn’t say how many, and perhaps that affected the other reviewer’s experience.
• Cleanliness. We had no problems here. Our cabana and its equipment were clean and in good shape.
• Security. Previous complaints of security inadequately keeping others off the beach seem to have been addressed. That said, I was approached by a number of people who were able to walk up the beach to ask how they could book a cabana. That wasn’t security’s fault, they were quick to intercept, and frankly, it was no big deal to answer the questions of the people who did manage to breach the security perimeter. At no time did I ever feel that my “stuff” was in danger of being snagged by anyone. (The beach is private, but the ocean isn’t.)
• Food. Dedicated waiter kept our drinks coming. We ordered chicken tenders which my four year-old granddaughter refused to share with us. I snuck a bite and they were hot and tasty. Bar food, as another reviewer noted, but good.
• Expense. It was our best spent $$ of the cruise. In fact, I would choose a future cruise solely for this port and this excursion.
We spent the Belize day aboard, having decided this was the least desirable port for us and because we wanted to spend one port day onboard. Good decision as we were all suffering from too much excitement and too little sleep.
Spent a lot of time in the pool area and hot tub. I’d read other reviewers complain about the size of the pool, and yep, it’s tiny. I’m talkin’ miniscule. Frankly, we don’t spend much time in the pool on cruises as a rule so I wasn’t sure if I was just more aware of its size because we had a tyke with us who loves to swim.
We chose a private excursion for this port, the Maya Chan Beach, based on the rave reviews it got here and on other review sites. We struggled a bit with the decision, because it’s a bit of a drive out and this port was our shortest stop, docking at 7 a.m. and departing at 2 p.m.
Maya Chan Beach is an all-inclusive private beach - 5 miles south of the Port of Costa Maya – that takes care of transportation, entertainment (kayaking, beach biking, snorkeling, sand wedge golf) and food. Free wifi with computers is available onsite.
They serve a Mayan Feast (including chicken thighs, grilled skirt steak, garlic sea bass, mayan pork, and tortillas), and have a children’s menu.
From the beginning, the folks at Maya Chan Beach were welcoming and responsive to our questions. Two weeks outside out sail date we got an email with detailed instructions and a port map.
They – and other reviewers – caution about the seagrass. If you don’t like seagrass, they say, this may not be the beach for you. We’re landlocked prairie folk and didn’t really know what seagrass was. It smells bad and there was a lot of it. The entire time we were there, there was a gentleman raking up and disposing of the seagrass. Once you got further out into the water, the seagrass wasn’t as much of a problem. We were in a nice little palapa with a hammock, a beach bed, two adult beach chairs, and a small table. They provided a small kids’ beach chair and a bucket of sand toys for our granddaughter.
I cannot say enough nice things about the amazing people who run and work at this resort. From beginning to end, impeccable care and attention. It started when we got off the ship and went to the meeting point.
In our defence and before I start this part of the story, let me remind you that we were in vacation mode and had, apparently, left our brains in a bucket at home. We couldn’t figure out why no one was there to meet us. Someone finally showed up, very pleasant young man, and as we talked, we realized that we had arrived for the excursion on ship time instead of local time. Maya Chan arranged for a taxi and got us to the beach an hour early.
Once we arrived at Maya Chan and settled into our palapa, we were served drinks and homemade chips with fresh salsa and guacamole. Delicious. Drinks and food were included in the cost of our excursion. $58/adult, $30/child.
And the food was amazing. t was set up buffet style, locally sourced. The fresh fish – catch of the day – in a wine sauce, I think, was delicious.
Our granddaughter had spent the vacation in search of a real coconut and they obliged her by hacking down a coconut and giving her one to try. She was disappointed in the taste, but loved the experience!
You will not find more hospitable hosts than the people at this resort.
Oh hey, they also have a treehouse that you can rent (instead of a palapa).
Cruise Director: Jamie Dee
February was Jamie’s last month on the Sunshine, I believe. The CD has never been a huge deal for us in the past, but having heard soooo much about Jamie, I was curious to see what made her the Super CD.
She’s everywhere all the time. High energy and lots of fun. So friendly.
Rumours of Bad Smells, Crowds, Ill-Tempered Staff
First off, the crowds. Yep, the Carnival Sunshine is noisy and crowded. I don’t know how that compares to other Carnival ships as this was our first Carnival experience. Here’s where we began to realize, perhaps even pre-cruise, that we may not have selected the right ship, the right cruiseline, for us. Because it’s all about finding the cruiseline and ship that are right for you.
The crowds overwhelmed us a little. This started at embarkation as we entered the incredibly loud and crowded atrium and headed for the Lido deck and a burger at Guy’s. Too loud for us and certainly too loud for our granddaughter.
But that was us, and the people around us were having a blast.
The bad smells and ill-tempered staff … heck, we looked for them, given the complaints we’d read before leaving. I think we caught a whiff of something somewhere (by Guys?) one day, but seriously, nothing consistent or even mentionable in our opinion.
Our staff interactions were unfailingly pleasant, save one situation where *I* was grumpy with the bar staff who didn’t want to give me a soda on my husband’s soda card (he was laid up in the room, having trouble walking after a bad sunburn following our excellent day in Mahogany Bay).
We are not the type who feel slighted when we aren’t acknowledged by name. Having said that, we were overwhelmed when staff all through the aft part of the ship on our level consistently greeted our granddaughter with, “Good morning Princess Evelyn”. In the dining room each evening as well, the maitre d’ would pop by and check on the princess. We’d sometimes run into our wait staff in other parts of the ship (at breakfast, or in the Marketplace) who’d greet the princess in the same way. I cannot begin to tell you how that thrilled Evelyn.
So again, different ships/cruiselines for different people. I was disappointed in the food. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.
One aspect of my life experience is as a bit of a foodie. I use that term hesitantly, as I don’t think I’m a food snob. I like a good dining experience, where the food is high quality, creatively prepared, and attractively served.
So. I loved Guy’s Burgers for what they were. Yummy burgers topped with whatever topping you chose.
The Main Dining Room. The appetizers were good and attractively served. The main course, not so much. Again, not that it wasn’t good, just that it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. There is no dish that stood out as spectacular for me. My husband thoroughly enjoyed the food, though he did say he liked Princess food better. The dining room seating felt very crowded. It didn’t help that our table was right beside a table of eight kids whose parents chose to dine together at the table behind them. Most of the kids were decently behaved, but there was one girl in particular who kept running up and down the space between our tables and bumped my husband every time. Her parents were oblivious and it was ultimately up to us to gently remind her to be more careful. I get it; she’s excited about being on vacation, but her parents should’ve been more aware of her.
Evelyn loved the ice cream cone machines on the Lido deck and had two or three every day.
Must-try dishes that people recommended came off as a bit of a disappointment, too. The Hey Porkchop on the sea day brunch menu didn’t wow me. The Warm Melting Chocolate cake was ok, but I don’t get the hype. The pizza … we didn’t care for it all.
A note about the Marketplace that I didn’t realize until the last few days. It seemed to carry mostly items that were also served in the dining room that night. So, if you didn’t want to do the dining room experience, you weren’t missing anything. I’ve read complaints about its organization, but I didn’t find it confusing to navigate.
I’ve heard people complain about the reduced serving size and, while I agree that the servings were small, I see that as a plus. I’d rather order a second app/entrée/dessert than have a heaping plate I couldn’t finish. In my mind, smaller servings only encourage the sampling of other dishes if you’re still hungry.
We never left the table hungry, though. :-)
We were really looking forward to Seuss Brunch and it did not disappoint. The food was creative and good. The entertainment and general tone of the brunch was fun. My only complaint is that we felt a little rushed. There was a seating after us.
Afternoon tea. So much fun for a little girl and her grandparents. Sweets and biscuits and cucumber sandwiches. Very nice.
My husband did not want to drop Evelyn off at Camp Carnival; he wanted to spend every minute with her. I convinced him to let her try it. She loves pre-school and I thought she’d love Camp.
Like the dining room, though, it was just ok. She went the second night of the trip and we told her to have them call us if she wanted us to pick her up. We left her at camp for two hours and, when we picked her up she was happy to see us. She said she’d asked the staff to call us, but they’d discouraged her. We got that. They thought we wanted some time to ourselves, so they encouraged her to stay and play. The next night, we told the staff to give us a call if she asked them to.
After an hour, we got the call. We picked her up and grilled her a little on the experience. She just said she’d rather stay with us. So, not that Camp Carnival wasn’t fun. I can’t say we were disappointed she rather spend the time with us. :-)
Our favourite bits of the ship itself were watching the sun come up from the balcony while we sipped our room service coffee or hot chocolate, chatting about the day over dinner, hanging out on the beaches at port. Evelyn loved dressing up in fancy clothes for dinner. She also like trying new dishes, her favourites were the frog legs (two plates of them) and smoked duck. She liked the Seuss Parade and story time, too.
We aren’t the party demographic that Carnival appeals to. I guess we knew that about ourselves, but chose the cruiseline and ship for Evelyn. I haven’t even talked about the 2.0 Waterpark upgrade that was one of the main reasons we chose the Carnival Sunshine. That’s because we visited them on the first seaday and Evelyn didn’t care for them at all. Too loud, and she thought the waterslides were scary. So that’s on me. I chose poorly. She preferred to swim, or explore the ship or watch the water from the balcony or even watch the ship information channel (she loved seeing where we were relative to where we were going or where “home” was).
We are setting up our cruise with Evelyn for next year, but not with Carnival or Royal Caribbean. We’re going to try Holland America (a first for us) or Princess (known to us).