Carnival doesn't have the big-name Broadway shows that other lines have secured for their ships. Instead, it has opted to bring its own interpretation to the typical "journey-through-the-classics" cruise-ship revue shows.
Carnival made a pretty heavy investment in sound and lights for its shows on Breeze and has taken it a step further on Sunshine with an ultra-HD graphics package beamed onto a vast screen, which the performers use as a backdrop and part of their show. We watched Epic Rock, which included flames, cages, giant black wings, crumbling brick walls and exploding suns, beefing up the music (and at times almost swamping it, the graphics are so stunning).
The show was extraordinary. Scary, apocalyptic and whimsical all at the same time, we've never seen anything quite like it. And the music was pretty good, too (if you like hard rock).
There are four themed shows, which run about 30 to 40 minutes each: Latin Nights, Motor City, Epic Rock and Studio VIP.
"Hasbro, the Game Show," an interactive game show-themed show, appears on Sunshine. Classic board games like Connect 4 and Operation are adapted for the stage with lots of audience participation. It's fun, if you're prepared to get involved.
All these shows take place in the Liquid Lounge, which doubles as the main 800-seat Theater. Some logistical issues mean it doesn't quite work. Because the room was designed as a theater and is two stories, it's impossible to create an intimate atmosphere, with D.J. and dance floor marooned in a vast space.
RedFrog Pub, a Caribbean-themed watering hole -- which has Carnival's own brew, ThirstyFrog Red -- also appears on Sunshine. There's an offshoot on the main pool deck, RedFrog Rum Bar, with BlueIguana Tequila Bar (another Carnival staple), opposite that. The Piano Bar entertains the crowd with sing-alongs, comedians and pianist performances. The Limelight Lounge also makes an appearance and doubles as the Punchliner Comedy Club.
The Library Bar is just off the Atrium, which would usually mean it would be competing with the noise from there, but sound-proofed doors give it a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. Self-serve wine dispensers allow you to sample six different wines for a fee. There's also a bar, which is staffed at night.
The port side of the Casino, which is relatively large, allows for smoking. It features all the usual machines and is connected to the Skybox Sports Bar.
Weirdly stationed at one end of the huge, open space that is now the Ocean Plaza, Alchemy Bar doesn't work on a couple of levels. The first and most important reason is that it's not its own room; it's just a space, and it has to compete -- unsuccessfully -- with the live bands in the center of the room. Second, the design seems only half thought out. People in lab coats and a wood-paneled backdrop working in what is meant to resemble an "Olde Apothecary" needs to be followed through with the main bar -- which is just like any other bar on any other ship. The only cool thing about it is its backlit menus (which would be a whole lot cooler in a darker room). On the plus side, the Havana Bar is a really well-thought-out space that incorporates the two new specialty restaurants on either side, as well as the main bar itself.
The space itself is large -- the whole of Deck 5 aft -- with lots of different types of seating, some against the aft windows. In the middle is the bar, which serves some delicious for free Cuban nibbles during the day such as empanadas. In the evening, the Latin music is turned up and the lighting turned down; the two specialty restaurants are curtained off, and the bar begins to resemble more of what it's meant to be: a Cuban nightspot. Once the specialty restaurants have finished serving (from about 10.30 p.m.), the area behind the bar becomes a dance floor, with dancers busting some fine salsa and meringue moves until the early hours.
The Warehouse, just off the main lobby on Deck 5, features the latest video and arcade games and is mainly aimed at teens.
There are numerous shore excursions, including a handful of teens-only ones.
The atrium -- the midship space that typically is one of Carnival's defining elements -- has soft orange decor with a stylish, shiny metal-ball centerpiece, overhanging the main bar. It's a triple-deck space, which is criss-crossed with stairways and flanked on one side by glass-fronted elevators.
Guest services, the shore excursion desk and a self-service kiosk to check your bill are located on the first deck of the atrium (Deck 3).
Decks 4 and 5, which overlook the Atrium, feature all the obligatory boutiques that sell jewelry, duty-free booze and cigarettes, clothes and branded items. Cherry on Top, an ultra-indulgent sweet shop, done up in candy-cane red and white, sells all manner of sweets and some branded souvenir items, tux rentals and flowers.
The Ocean Plaza is an open area where you'll find Alchemy Bar and Taste, which serves small selections of some of the dishes in the specialty restaurants (to tempt you to make a booking). In the center is an ill-defined area, which is used for live music performances, but as Carnival has opened the whole area up, it means that the performance completely dominates the space.
The ubiquitous Park West auction house sells various pieces of art onboard in art auctions that take place in the lobby on Deck 2.
Every available bit of wall space seems to be taken up with pictures of passengers on Deck 4 of the Atrium space. This is Pixels Gallery, where you can buy a wildly overpriced pic of yourself and your loved ones. If you're looking for your own mug, a key card-activated facial-recognition system helps. Directly below is Dreams Studio, where you can set up a cheesy shot.
There are no self-service laundry facilities.
Carnival Sunshine has traded the traditional Internet cafe for bow-to-stern Wi-Fi at various "Fun Hubs" -- Web stations that are found in several public spaces around the ship. Internet can only be purchased in packages. There is one Fun Hub beside Java Blue, which allows you to get your caffeine fix and surf, and another on the Lobby Deck. What's impressive is Carnival appears to have cracked the curse of onboard Wi-Fi; we found it quick and efficient.
The ship's library, which doubles as the Library Bar, has a small selection of bestsellers and travel books, as well as a good selection of Hasbro-branded games (e.g. Monopoly and Battleship). All can be checked out with the help of a librarian (who doubles as the lobby bar bartender on Deck 3). Tabs on book borrowers are kept via their Sail and Sign cards.
There is a small medical facility on Deck 0.
The headline-grabbing addition to Sunshine is Serenity, a triple-deck adults-only retreat, complete with hot tubs, cabanas, bars and a triple-height waterfall and plunge pool. It's by far the biggest adults-only area Carnival has on any of its ships. It's a gorgeous space and beautifully designed, from the triple-height waterfall and plunge pool to the cabanas and dozens of deck chairs. And, if you have no kids (or if they are safely being entertained in Camp Carnival), it's a wonderful spot to get away from it all. It never seems to get crowded and becomes quieter and calmer the farther up and toward the front you venture. Plus, unlike most other lines, Carnival levies no outrageous charges for the hire of cabanas: everything is free. It's not particularly well patrolled -- there are a couple of discreet signs stating "Over 21's Only" -- and there were a few kids who dared to venture in, but the majority were older.
Serenity overlooks the main Lido Deck, which features one pool that is way too small for the number of passengers onboard. It's set up like an amphitheater (which makes sense, as it's where outdoor movies and TV shows are shown on a 270-square-foot screen over the pool), in tiered seating, peppered with hot tubs and rows and rows of blue loungers. The pool is flanked by the aforementioned quartet of branded bars and restaurants -- Guy's Burger Joint, the BlueIguana Cantina, BlueIguana Tequila Bar and RedFrog Rum Bar.
The space doubles as the venue for evening deck parties and daytime entertainment offerings (like the best mixed drink contest). A D.J. also regularly spins tracks overlooking this spot on sunny sea days. Behind him (on Deck 11) is one of two outdoor smoking areas (the other is on the outdoor port side of the Lobby Deck); it's been banned from every other bar and venue.
Look out for the surreal towel animal army that materializes on the sun deck one morning of each cruise. Even the most cynical cruiser will admire the whimsy.
One deck below Serenity is the Cloud 9 Spa (open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily). With 15 treatment rooms, this is one of the larger spas in the fleet, and it's run by Steiner. It has a Thermal Suite with sauna, steam room, tropical shower and heated stone loungers with lovely sea views, which are all available for a fee of $35 (free if you are in one of the Spa Cabins). Other treatments available include a DIY Scrub Experience, where you select an herbal blend and a "mixologist" creates a customized body scrub, and ZSpa, a teen spa program that offers a line of treatments designed specifically for 13- to 17-year-olds. Mother-daughter and father-son treatments are also available. Spa treatments include massages, facials and Botox. A 50-minute aroma stone massage is $159, one treatment of acupuncture $150; a 50-minute Couples' Villa Massage costs from $269 per couple.
The spa leads to the fitness center, which offers all the latest cardio and weight-training equipment. The fitness center serves as the location for a wide range of instructor-led exercise classes. Basic ones, such as stretching, are included in the cost of the cruise; Pilates, yoga, boot camp and spinning are $12 a class.
There is also a salon attached, offering cuts and men's grooming. Look for deals on port days, such as a free haircut ($35 value) thrown into a $95 "Gents Pamper Package."
At the aft of the ship lie WaterWorks and SportSquare. WaterWorks features 40 interactive water features, including the PowerDrencher, a 150-gallon tipping bucket, and five different slides, including the new racing-themed 235-foot Speedway Splash and a 334-foot-long and 47-foot-high Twister slide, the longest in the "Fun Ship" fleet. Passengers must be at least 42 inches tall to ride the slides. There is also a SplashZone for younger kids.
Sunshine's SportSquare includes a ropes course, mini-golf course, a basketball court, jogging track, table tennis, Foosball and pool tables. A running track (or Sky Track) goes around SportSquare and the basketball court, with seven laps equaling one mile.
Kids are warmly welcomed nearly everywhere on the ship and will find no shortage of things to do.
The Camp Carnival play area caters to 2- to 11-year-olds and is divided into three main sections, depending on age group. The really small ones (2- to 5-year-olds) get a little outdoor play area just for themselves and an indoor space with age-appropriate soft toys and games. The older you are, the more chairs, video games and space to hang out you get, so for 6- to 8-year-olds, video game consoles linked to plasma-screen TV's, sand art machines, spin art and themed activities are offered. For the 9- to 11-year-olds, there are more video game consoles, as well as swimming under the stars, scavenger hunts, sport challenges and various other fun activities. It's worth noting that 9- to 11-year-olds are allowed to sign themselves out of the club for any reason, but parents are encouraged to give them a cabin key or arrange a meeting place.
Like all "Fun Ships," Carnival Sunshine offers kids the opportunity to decorate custom-designed Camp Carnival T-shirts, get their faces painted for themed activities, play bingo, make their own pizza and build stuffed animals in the Build-A-Bear Workshop. (All profits go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.)
Scheduled activities generally run until 10 p.m., after which Night Owl parties -- late-night group baby-sitting -- are available for $6.75 per hour, per kid (plus 15 percent gratuity per child). There are also the occasional theme parties (beach, Mardi Gras), which run from 10 p.m. to midnight and cost $13 per child (plus 15 percent gratuity).
There are limited activities for the 2-and-younger set. There are designated times when little ones can use the facilities if supervised by their parents. Children who are not toilet trained cannot use Sunshine's WaterWorks facilities, pools or hot tubs.
Carnival also requires kids 11 and younger to wear colored wristbands throughout the cruise, indicating their muster stations.
Older kids get their own, separate rooms (adjacent to Camp Carnival): Circle C for the 12- to 14-year-olds and Club O2 for the 15- to 17-year-olds. Circle C lounge has a dance floor, video jukebox, music, video game consoles and Fun Hub stations. Adjacent to Circle C is Club O2, a teen club where older kids can make new friends and dance to the latest hits cranked out from the D.J. booth. Designed as the ultimate "chill" space, this room also includes a soda bar, video game consoles, Fun Hub stations and a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system. The clubs are generally open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on days in port and from noon to 1 a.m. on sea days. Kids can come and go as they please, but parents are ultimately responsible for their kids. Both Circle C and Club O2 programs have a dedicated director who oversees a host of activities, including late-night movies, video game contests, trivia and scavenger hunts -- and ensures not too much mischief goes on.
The ship also offers numerous kid-friendly culinary choices, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and 24-hour pizza and soft-serve ice cream, available in the casual poolside Lido Marketplace restaurant. The main dining rooms have a children's menu with daily junior specials each night. Kids can also "dine under the stars" with the youth staff (allowing parents to dine on their own).