We just returned from an 8 day cruise on the Sunshine from Port Canaveral. Our ports of call were St Maarten, St Kitts, San Juan, and Grand Turk. I've sailed many times on Carnival (all different ships with the exception of 3 ... Read More
We just returned from an 8 day cruise on the Sunshine from Port Canaveral. Our ports of call were St Maarten, St Kitts, San Juan, and Grand Turk. I've sailed many times on Carnival (all different ships with the exception of 3 sailings on the Glory and I have sailed from a few different ports) and I have also cruised on Norwegian as well to give you some perspective.
Our group consisted of myself, my 30 yr old daughter, and my 14 yr old son. We booked the park and cruise package the night before at the Best Western right on Cocoa Beach near the pier. The cost was approximately 149.00 which included parking for our vehicle for the week, breakfast, and a shuttle to and from the port. The room was ready when we arrived at noon and the staff was very friendly. The shuttle was free for 2 guests and we paid an additional 12.00 for the third person. We were given a choice of two shuttle times upon checking in and took the earlier shuttle at 1030 am. We had a ground floor room with an outside entrance near one of the pools. We were right across from the walkway over the dune to the beach, which had a great view of the pier. The rooms were basic but clean and comfortable. There were also two pools, one of which had a small bar area. We spent some time relaxing there. Breakfast the next morning was served in a different building (the hotel had 3 or 4 separate buildings that were part of the complex). It was the usual eggs, pastries, sausage, cereal, yogurts, fruit, coffee, juices, etc. We went into the main breakfast area which was pretty crowded and an employee told us there was an additional breakfast area across the hall which was identical and less crowded. After breakfast we took our luggage to the lobby to wait for the shuttle. It arrived about 10 minutes early and was a large van pulling a luggage trailer. The hotel uses Cocoa Beach Shuttle services. The gentleman loaded up our luggage and gave us a return receipt with instructions on where to meet the shuttle when we got off the ship. We arrived at the port in approximately 15-20 minutes.
I'm not going to review the ports since much information can already be found on the port forums. However, I do want to mention that we used No 1 SXM parasailing in St Maarten and Royston's tours in St Kitts. They were both awesome experiences and I have left reviews on trip advisor for both. I'd highly recommend them!
I won't go into the details of boarding at Port Canaveral, but I generally find this port pretty efficient. It's no more painful than boarding at any other port in my opinion. We were on the ship by about noon and headed straight to the Lido deck. We grabbed a burger at Guy's Burger Joint (yum!) and went to the back of the ship to sit in the Havana Bar section which is directly through the doors behind the main Lido buffet area. We found it was a little quieter and cooler than the main Lido area. The also had some yummy appetizers, such as empanadas at the Havana Bar. The Mongolian grill and the Italian restaurant is also located in this section. They said the cabins would be ready by 130 but we headed to our cabin closer to 1 pm and it was ready, so we threw down our carry-ons and went off to explore the ship.
First off, I have to say after reading some of the reviews on the Sunshine, I was very nervous about cruising this ship. I like to do a lot of research on ships, deck plans, ports, etc. prior to each ship so I had a good idea of the negative reviews but decided to give it a shot because of the port itinerary.
We stayed in balcony cabin 6308 which was right off the elevator. The location was excellent since we could hop on the elevator and get out right at the Lido deck buffet/dining area on 9, the Sunshine dining room on 3, or the Ocean Plaza/Casino on 5. It was also very convenient to the water slides and sky course. The room was quiet with no noise from above or below, although we did occasionally hear people coming and going from the elevators - but it was few and far in between and didn't bother us at all. The cabin was a good size and the shower seemed a bit larger than usual, which I appreciated. The cabin was decorated with neutral walls and blue/yellow accents with colorful artwork above the sofa and beds. It was cheerful without being gaudy. We had the room set up for two twins and my son slept on the fold out sofa which he said was actually very comfortable. Our room steward was the best I've ever had on any ship. Our ice bucket was always freshly filled with ice, he helped arrange the room by moving a table between the twin beds for my CPAP machine, and even offered to go down to maintenance to find an extension cord if wanted to hook up my machine on the other side of the bed. He realized we liked to take afternoon naps so would make our beds in the AM, then turn them back down around 3-4 pm, make them again around 6 and then turn them down as usual for the night. After the first 2 days we told him that he could leave the sofa bed down to save himself some work. He spent a good deal of time chatting with my son and telling him about life in his home country and working on the cruise ship. We wanted to take him home with us. lol
We found the food on the ship to be very good. There were more choices than most ships I've sailed on. There was the usual Lido buffet, the formal dining room, Guys Burger Joint, the Blue Iguana Cantina taco/burrito bar, a sushi bar (extra fee), a gourmet coffee/milkshake stand (extra fee), a deli, a pizzeria that was open 24 hours a day and the usual ice cream machines around the boat. The Sunshine also has Ji-Ji's Asian - which offered free Mongolian stir fry for lunch and Asian sit-down dinners which were 15.00/pp in the evening and Cucina Del Capitano which had free made to order pasta and garlic bread for lunch. In the evenings, it offers family style italian dining for 15.00/pp. There were also small offerings of appetizers at the Havana bar, such as empanadas and cuban sandwiches. There is also something called the Taste Bar which is a small stand set up on deck 5 between the Alchemy Bar and the casino. It offered a few small breakfast choices in the am for those who did not want the full Lido buffet spread and prior to dinner each evening, it would offer "tastes" of a few menu items from around the ship. It was a good spot to sample a few hors d'oeuvres with a drink prior to dinner. The Sunshine also has the steak house which is an additional fee. We did not eat here but I can assume it's on par with the other Carnival steak houses. The food in the main dining room was reliable every night and service was top notch. We all have very different tastes so sampled a variety of menu options and were never disappointed. We loved our dining team who were charming, friendly, and efficient. They knew my son had a typical teenager appetite so would always offer him a sample of more than one main course if he couldn't make up his mind or two desserts. They knew our names by the second night and remembered that we liked decaf coffee each night after dinner. Service was very prompt with the exception of the last sea day when we waited much longer between courses for some reason.
Against the advice I read in the forums, we did do the anytime dining instead of a set dining time. I was worried based on the reviews that said it was very confusing and people had to wait for 45+ minutes for their pager to go off. However, we can never seem to stick to a set dining schedule since everyone likes to do their own thing so I decided to go with my usual anytime dining and hope for the best. I was especially frightened by this decision when I discovered a week prior to sailing when I attempted to add another family member into our stateroom that the ship was sailing at capacity. Can you imagine my surprise when we did not wait even ONE night for a table? Yes we did have to check in near the Taste Bar on deck 5 but the process was painless. You stand in a fast-moving line and they give you a slip to take to the dining room on deck 3 which is directly two decks below. So you just hop on the elevator or walk down the stairs and you are right at the dining room entrance. (After the first night, we requested the same section when we checked in so we could have the same wait staff and always got it.) We typically ate between 5:45 and 7 pm and sat at a table for 4 in section 315 by the windows. I don't know why our experience was so different from many others but we never got a pager - just slip of paper -and never had ANY wait. We always walked directly from the check-in on deck 5 to the dining room entrance on deck 3 where we handed the hostess our ticket and were escorted directly to our table. It couldn't have been easier! I suppose if you did have to wait for your table to be ready, it wouldn't be that bad because you can sample the food from the Taste Bar, have a drink at the Alchemy Bar, or sit in the Ocean Plaza lounge area while waiting which is all located right where you check in for dining.
The only down side I found to the dining experience was that as with many Carnival ships, late night dining options are limited to pizza, ice cream, and room service. The pizzeria always had a huge line late at night and people were getting annoyed with the wait times. The poor souls making the pizza were working as quickly as they could but because pizzas are hand made, it's a slow process. We did order room service a few nights after 1 am and it arrived very quickly but options are limited to sandwiches, wraps, salads, and desserts. We would usually get a wrap, BLT, or grilled cheese with some cheesecake (the cheesecake was pretty darn good). Also I do have to mention that the area around the Lido buffet can be congested and seating can be limited. I found it's best to take your food back to the Havana Bar area to sit or to go at "off" times such as right when the buffet opens or is almost done to avoid the crowds. Even though our sailing was at capacity we always found seats and the lines at the buffets were manageable, but I did notice that there were just not as many open tables / seating areas as on other ships.
The entertainment was enjoyable and the entertainment staff were a good group. We especially enjoyed Darnell who hosted the trivia games in the Ocean Plaza lounge around 11 am each morning. He was very witty and always made us laugh. My son was in the Circle C club for teens and said he liked the counselor there as well. He met quite a few friends and spent a lot of time playing at the basketball court, doing the sky rope course, and hanging out in the teen club playing games. They designed their own t-shirts on the last night and had a "dance-off" which he said was fun. We did not participate in bingo or the art action so I can't comment on that. We did see many of the evening shows and it is certainly true that the comedy club and the main theater can fill up very quickly since they are smaller than on other ships, so we arrived about 30 minutes prior to any show we wanted to see and never had a problem finding a seat. The comedians were top-notch and there were typically 3-4 comedy shows each night with the first one being family-friendly and the later ones being for adults only. If you get stuck with a seat in the comedy club that is on either side of the main stage you will not be able to see the comedian. Instead you will watch the show from tv screens mounted on the walls. We got there a little later than usual one evening and had to watch the show on the monitor. It wasn't quite the same as seeing the comedian up close and personal, but it was still an enjoyable show.
A note about the comedy club....the area where you wait in line prior to the show gets VERY hot. There is no air moving so it's very stuffy and there are no chairs. Since people start lining up about 30-40 minutes prior, the wait time compiled with the heat is not a lot of fun, especially for those of us who have health issues. I found it was easier for my daughter to stand in line and save me a seat while I waited at the end of the hall way in the Library Bar until it was almost showtime. The only real disappointment in the entertainment department was that the hypnotist and the musical reviews were the exact same shows I saw on the Glory 7 months ago. I'm not sure how frequently Carnival changes out the shows, so I don't know if it's typical to find the same shows running on different ships.
The main show theater turns into the nightclub after the last show of the evening. It did seem a little odd to be dancing in the area that held bingo just an hour prior and having a theater double as the nightclub did reinforce the image that the Sunshine lacks space.
The serenity area was indeed very nice and we enjoyed the waterfall pool and the hot tub. The front area of the serenity deck was not very "serene" since it overlooks the main lido deck with the DJ and activities. If you want a more quiet setting, you have the option of going up higher or around the back since the serenity area has more than one level. However, it is challenging to find deck chairs in the serenity area or on the main decks on sea days. You either have to go very early (we heard people mention they went at 730 am to get a chair) or wait until the lunch buffets start and people thin out later in the afternoon. We heard they enforce the "no chair saving" policy but we never saw any staff members doing so. The main pool was small but the splash area and the water slides made up for it.
We did play in the casino and broke even on the slots thanks to hitting a small progressive bonus. I also earned enough points by day 3 for free drinks in the casino, which was a nice perk. The casino bar staff was very efficient and I never had any trouble getting drinks while playing. The casino was very smokey however and the ventilation could have been better. It also got rather crowded in the evenings but that's not different from most ship casinos in my opinion.
Overall, we thought the staff on the Sunshine was excellent and really made the cruise for us. The ship was very clean and looked modern. We enjoyed the dining options and the 2.0 upgrades. We did not notice any odd smells, leaks, strange noises, or experience any issues with the anytime dining that other reviewers have mentioned. I did notice that the ship did not feel as open in the common areas as other ships I have sailed on. During peak times, the areas around the shops, buffets, and shows can be congested but it wouldn't be enough to prevent me from sailing on the Sunshine. Planning to arrive early for shows and to do things at off-peak times can make a big difference in your experience. There are also plenty of quiet spots to be found such as the Library Bar, the Ocean Plaza lounge area, the Piano Bar, and the RedFrog Pub if you need somewhere to relax without crowds. We had a great time on our cruise, loved the itinerary, and the ship and staff really won us over. We were pleasantly surprised and would not hesitate to sail on her again. I'm glad that we did not let the reviews sway us or we would have missed a great cruise! Read Less