--Updated by Erica Lamberg, Cruise Critic contributor
Dining options on Carnival Sunshine range from top-shelf winners to hit-or-miss choices, with the specialty dining venues a welcome break from the main dining room doldrums. Not only did we find the food to be hit or miss, we also found it repetitive.
Breakfast is offered in several spots on the ship including the Lido Marketplace Buffet, Sunrise Dining Room on sea days, BlueIguana Cantina, Havana Bar and a continental buffet near Ocean Plaza. Lunch is also available in multiple spots including the lunchtime only Mongolian Wok and Pasta Bar, Guy's Burger Joint, Havana Bar and BlueIguana Cantina. The Carnival Deli on Deck 9 is a reliable choice, too.
Cruisers with special dietary requests should let the cruise line know ahead of time or talk to the maitre d' in their assigned restaurant on embarkation day. Gluten-free bread is available in most of the dining venues.
Sunrise Dining Room (Decks 3 and 4) and Sunset Dining Room (Deck 3): Carnival Sunshine has two Main Dining Rooms: Sunrise Dining Room and Sunset Dining Room. Passengers with fixed-time, assigned-table seating (two seatings: 6 or 8:15 p.m.) dine in either Sunrise on Deck 4 or Sunset. Assigned dining times book up in advance so make your choice when you book, if you have a preference. Those with the flexible Your Time Dining (anytime between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m.) dine on Deck 3 of Sunrise; depending on when you arrive you might have to wait for a table. Both dining rooms offer two-tops, four-tops and larger tables.
As on all Carnival ships, during some meals, the waitstaff will sing and dance and parade around the dining room. It's fun to see your waitstaff performing.
Breakfast is served in Sunrise on sea days. It's a sit-down, full-service menu with open seating. The breakfast menu features standard morning items like pancakes, eggs any way you want, bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and fresh fruit. A special sea day brunch is offered on select days and is a mix of breakfast items and lunch choices.
For dinner, both restaurants' dinner menus are the same.
Appetizers, which rotate throughout the cruise so you can have your favorite more than once, might include smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail, beef barley soup, seafood chowder or Caesar salad. Entrees can include glazed ham, blackened fish, Indian vegetarian, steak, braised beef brisket, vegetable lasagna and grilled chicken. As with appetizers, sides rotate throughout the cruise and might include ratatouille, seasoned vegetables, creamed spinach and bacon mac 'n cheese.
In addition to changing menu items, you'll also find the same four grill selections every night: salmon fillet, flat iron steak, chicken breast and pork chop. Also available every night are several steakhouse selections that carry a surcharge of $20 each. Choices are broiled Maine lobster tail, surf and turf, filet mignon and New York strip loin steak.
Desserts rotate as well, though the Carnival's noteworthy chocolate melting cake is always available, as is a selection of ice creams and sorbets.
Lido Marketplace (Deck 9): The ship's buffet, Lido Marketplace, has loads of seating, both in terms of quantity and variety (traditional two- to eight-seat tables by the windows, bar-style elevated tables) but despite this, finding indoor seating is sometimes a challenge -- especially at lunchtime and if you're with a larger party. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here.
It offers an impressive salad bar, Indian vegetarian options, a carving station, two soup choices, and a hot buffet with meat, fish, grains and vegetables.
Breakfast includes hot and cold items including cereal, fruit, yogurt, scrambled eggs, pancakes, hash browns, cold cuts and an omelet station, among other traditional morning items. A second omelet station is also available in the Havana Bar area, but you could end up waiting 20 minutes.
For lunch and dinner, Lido Marketplace is divided into different areas. Comfort Kitchen, located near the entrance by the Lido Pool, offers a variety of American favorites including items like mac 'n cheese, chicken fingers, fried fish, meat stews and other comfort favorites. At the back of Lido Marketplace, you'll find the carving station as well as a section called (on a rotating basis) Caribbean Favorites, Italian Favorites and Good Eats. You'll find a small salad bar in each section.
The Carnival Deli is located in the back of Lido Marketplace. Choose from deli-style sandwiches like corned beef paninis, tuna wraps, turkey on rye or the ever-popular grilled cheese.
Both sides of the buffet have a Sweet Spot dessert station with a variety of cakes and cookies. There is also an ice cream machine.
Also on both sides of the buffet are self-pour beer taps with Bud Light and ThirstyFrog Red -- just swipe your card to activate the tap. Complimentary self-service beverage stations with lemonade, water, tea (iced and hot) and coffee are scattered throughout the Lido Marketplace, as well as near the aft pool outdoor seating area. At breakfast, the beverage choices are orange, apple and orange-passion fruit-guava cocktail juices.
Pizzeria del Capitano (Deck 9): Located at the back of the ship, this pizza joint offers individual-sized pizzas, all available free of charge 24 hours a day. Options include margherita, cheese, pepperoni and mushroom. Gluten-free pizza is available as well.
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 9): Burger lovers flock to this poolside stop (the brainchild of TV chef Guy Fieri), which is surely Carnival's most popular eatery. Here, you can build your own burger or choose from five pre-designed burgers. Highlights for many are the Ringer, a cheeseburger with a giant onion ring on top; the Chilius Maximus, a beef patty with super melty cheese, an onion ring, donkey sauce and chili; and the Pig Patty, a combo of one beef patty and a second made of bacon, topped with cheese and donkey sauce. The burgers are served with trademark crispy fries and a nearby toppings bar offers fixings like lettuce, tomato, pickles, seasoned mushrooms and caramelized onions. Bring your patience with you as there are long lines during prime lunch hours, but lines moves fast. Veggie burgers are not advertised but are available upon request. Hours vary but generally it's open from noon to 6 p.m.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 9): This poolside Mexican venue creates fish, chicken or beef tacos and shrimp, chicken or beef burritos every day for lunch. Or you can build your own taco with optional ingredients including all the favorites: black and refried beans, guacamole, cilantro lime rice, diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, roasted corn, cooked onions, sour cream, Monterey Jack cheese and pico de gallo. As if all that weren't enough, there's a salsa bar with even more toppings. BlueIguana Cantina is hopping for lunch, but breakfast is quiet and the scrambled egg burritos are scrumptious.
Mongolian Wok (Deck 9): Only offered for lunch, this free Asian noodle venue is located inside of JiJi Asian Kitchen. Mongolian Wok diners fill out a paper selecting a protein (chicken, pork, shrimp, beef), noodle choice and sauce (spicy Sichuan, Thai barbecue, black bean or soy), and then add extras.
The Pasta Bar (Deck 9): Located in Cucina del Capitano for lunch only, the pasta bar is a free spot for Italian food lovers to get a quick meal. Diners sit down and fill out a paper detailing what they want in their pasta. Choices begin with the pasta itself (linguini, penne, farfalle, gluten-free). Then pick from five sauces and a variety of ingredients that include grilled chicken, shrimp, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and arugula, among others. Half-portions are also served.
Havana Bar (Deck 9): A small selection of breakfast and lunch items are available in the Havana Bar in the morning and afternoon. For breakfast, you'll find an omelet station, as well as fruit and some Cuban breakfast specialties. At lunch you might find empanadas, and rice and beans.
Sea Dogs (Deck 11): A hot dog-shaped cart within the SportSquare outdoor recreation area offes all-beef franks and traditional toppings.
The Chef's Table (location varies); $95: The shining star of gourmet dining on Carnival Sunshine is The Chef's Table, an intimate multicourse dinner curated and hosted by the ship's Master Executive Chef. This VIP experience starts with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for a select group of 14 to 16 people, followed by a tour to see the galley in operation. The evening concludes with an excellent full-service dinner of tasty appetizers, entrees and desserts not found on the regular dining menus. It's recommended to reserve early because this experience has limited seating and fills up fast. Reservations can be made at the ship's Guest Services desk.
Fahrenheit 555 (Deck 4); $38: Handsome wood tables highlighted by golden accents give Fahrenheit 555 a sophisticated and classic steakhouse feel. Open for dinner only, this venue is perfect for date night. Menu items include an impressive selection of aged beef steaks, lamb chops, lobster tail and grilled fish specialties, along with more than a dozen appetizer, salad, soup and side dish choices. Plus, the service here is impeccable.
Shake Spot (Deck 5); a la carte: Grab a cappuccino, espresso, hot chocolate or herbal tea. While here, indulge in delicious cookies, cupcakes, gelato, shakes and floats. Most items are priced under $10.
Bonsai Sushi (Deck 4); a la carte: Equally as popular as Guy's Burger Joint, this hot spot offers a stellar menu of sushi, sashimi and bento boxes, as well as cooked-to-order items like shrimp tempura, chicken katsu and various noodle bowls, all for under $12 a meal. There's also an option that allows diners to let the chef pick. This surprise meal is priced at $15 for one person and $22 for two and is a great way to try something you may not have considered for yourself.
Cherry on Top (Deck 5); a la carte: Primarily a spot for grab and go candy, young cruisers always leave this sweet spot with a smile.
RedFrog Pub & Brewery (Deck 5); a la carte: RedFrog Pub's bites include coconut shrimp, grouper fingers, firecracker Jamaican wings, Bahamian conch salad, Caribbean sliders, Jamaican jerk and pulled pork sandwiches. Most food items are priced less than $8.
Cucina del Capitano (Deck 9); $15 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under: This venue is Italian done right. Red-and-white-checkered tablecloths set the stage for classic Italian staples including linguine and meatballs, spaghetti carbonara, chicken parmigiana and grilled shrimp with pasta, among other dishes inspired by the family recipes of Carnival's Italian captains and officers.
JiJi Asian Kitchen (Deck 9); $15 for adults, $5 for kids: Dining at JiJi is an experience where menu items from China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore and are shared family style, giving everyone a chance to taste multiple appetizers, entrees and sides. For adventurous diners, give the spicy Kung Pao chicken a whirl or try the less-spicy sweet and sour shrimp dish. Save room for desserts and splurge on the crepes.
Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (Main Dining Room); $6: Try this family-friendly breakfast experience with Dr. Seuss characters that interact with your children. Bright patterns decorate the table and showcases the fun and child-friendly menu items. The characters circulate the room allowing for special photo opportunities making this a meal to remember. Check the Fun Times daily program for exact dates during the sailing.
Room Service: In-cabin dining is available 24 hours a day, but free breakfast choices are all cold options (cereal, yogurt, fruit and pastries). We found it convenient on early port days to use the door tag to order breakfast the night before to get an early start. Anytime options include free sandwiches like tuna, roast turkey, ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and grilled Reuben, plus garden or Caesar salads and a market vegetable platter. For a small fee, you can select heartier choices like wings, chicken tenders, fried shrimp, chicken quesadillas, Philly cheesesteaks, pizza and french fries. All items incur a charge of $2 to $6 between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Although not required, it's a nice gesture to tip the room service delivery person a few dollars.