When I got the invitation to sail the “new” Carnival Sunshine, I was very excited.
Carnival Destiny was my first real cruise experience in 1999. When I say real, I mean longer than three nights –I sailed her on a seven-night western Caribbean jaunt. I remember being 18 years old, walking on the ship and thinking “now THIS is a pretty cool cruise ship.”
Fast forward to 2012, it was announced that Carnival Destiny was undergoing a $155-million overhaul, transforming her into Carnival Sunshine. This transformation would be like no other. Decks would be added, over a hundred new staterooms installed, specialty restaurants built on top of an existing pool area, a ropes course added, a three-deck adults-only serenity area was going to surface, and a handful of new dining venues — the ship was going to be gutted and re-stuffed with some pretty cool things.
Carnival Destiny‘s last sailing out of Miami was February 2013, and she never looked back.
This is my Carnival Sunshine review.
As I checked in and boarded Carnival Sunshine in Barcelona, my first impressions of the “new” ship were awesome. When you embark the vessel, you enter into the new Sunshine Atrium. This was the old atrium but it’s very “sunny” now, topped with a big sun sphere in the middle and accompanied with silver balls strung throughout.
The ship looked nothing like Carnival Destiny. If you’ve never been on a Carnival cruise before, you would’ve thought this was a brand new ship – and it pretty much was.
Long gone was the Las Vegas look and colors evoking a box of crayons throwing up.
My stateroom was a balcony cabin on deck six, just above Ocean Plaza. The stateroom reminded me a lot of the staterooms on Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze, giving off a very cool Caribbean vibe. A lot of cool yellow and blue colors. My room wasn’t one of the newer staterooms added, it was just refurbished.
The room had typical hallway closets, a flat-screen TV, a vanity/work area, and a couch (that I assumed pulled out into a sofa). The balcony was a nice size and fit two people comfortably.
The public areas were one of the biggest changes when it came to the refurbishment of the former Carnival Destiny. You can see what I am talking about in this video we shot before the transformation. There wasn’t one public area left untouched during the dry dock.
Carnival is famous for their Promenade deck because it’s where all the action occurs. Carnival Destiny was your typical walk from the theater, through the casino to the aft dining room — maybe making a stop at the wine bar in between. Carnival Sunshine’s promenade deck reminds me a lot of a resort, or the inside of a hotel, that you would find on the coast somewhere. It has cool Caribbean colors and a very open and airy feel.
Attached to the casino is the EA Sports Bar where you can play EA games, watch live sporting events via satellite, and features a live sports ticker that runs across the back wall.
Starting at the theater, you walk one level above the Sunshine Atrium, past the casino, and you approach Shake Shack and Java Blue coffee shop. Just past the coffee shop is the interactive Fun Hub, and then the Ocean Plaza that has the RedFrog Rum Bar, Taste Bar, and the Alchemy Bar.
The RedFrog Rum Bar was by far my favorite gathering point for a few reasons: the atmosphere, the live music, and the signature brew ThirstyFrog Red.
The Promenade was where most of the night action happened. The Ocean Plaza had a live band, an acoustic guitar player was usually in the RedFrog Rum Bar, and of course, the Alchemy Bar was always serving up handmade cocktails. Carnival really hit it home with this area.
In the mornings, the Ocean Plaza was nice because they also served a condensed version of a hot breakfast and there was plenty of seating. Oh, and a killer salad bar at lunch. At night the area transforms into the Taste Bar, offering samplings of different specialty restaurants throughout the ship.
Some new additions to deck four were the Piano 88 bar, the steakhouse, Bonsai Sushi, and the Library Bar.
Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll either see the three-story waterfall in the Serenity area first or the jumbo movie screen outside. The Lido Deck’s overhaul included an addition of the three-story Serenity area, Guy’s Burger Joint, RedFrog Rum Bar, BlueIguana Tequila Bar, and the BlueIguana Cantina. All the new additions serve up cold concoctions and delicious food. The dining venues on the Lido are all complimentary.
The much-talked-about waterfall was nice, but the peace and quiet you have in Serenity are a lot nicer. At first glance, you think it’s going to be super loud in Serenity because it backs right against the Lido pool and you can hear the DJ performing, but the deeper into Serenity you go, the quieter it gets. I put it to the test and walked all the way forward and could not hear any noise coming from the pool deck.
Walking around the ship, people were having difficulty finding a place to lay out, but they were just looking by the pool. Carnival Sunshine has loungers by the pool, decks above, aft, and forward. Also, for peace and quiet, deck four has a walkway with benches and loungers, making it the perfect spot for reading or a late night stroll.
Sports Square & WaterWorks
High above the sea, you’ll find SportsSquare, home of the largest ropes course at sea and other games to play.
Kids of all ages will love WaterWorks with the four slides up top, and the little slides and play area for the little ones.
One thing Carnival Sunshine has is an abundance of dining options. From the complimentary dining areas like the two main dining rooms, Lido Marketplace, Guy’s Burger Joint, BlueIguana Cantina, and all the way up to the four specialty venues — there’s something for every palate.
The specialty dining venues, like Bonsai Sushi, offer a la carte choices of sushi or you can buy it by the “ship” load. JiJi’s Asian Kitchen and the Italian Cucina del Capitano offer more than a stomach full for $15 per-person. I went with the chicken parm in Cucina and the duck in Jiji’s — best value at sea for $15. You leave stuffed.
The Latin-inspired Havana Bar sits between Cucina and JiJi’s and makes for a great pre or post-dinner meeting spot.
Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse could be one of the best values at sea. The $35 specialty fee includes an appetizer, entrée, dessert, and the wait staff’s gratuity. This is where Carnival really excels with dining at sea. The jumbo shrimp cocktail and 18 oz grilled prime cowboy steak were one for the books!
Like the other parts of Carnival Sunshine, the ship also took on the Fun Ship 2.0 initiative when it came to onboard entertainment. The main theater transformed into the Liquid Lounge, giving guests high-energy dance shows like Motor City, Latin Nights and Divas. These aren’t your typical song and dance shows because they have pyrotechnics, state-of-the-art lighting, and large screens behind the cast that incorporate into the act. I’ve seen Playlist Production shows before, and integrating technology with talented singers and dancers is a recipe for success.
Hasbro, The Game Show is another addition to the Carnival entertainment line up — the show first debuted on Carnival Breeze in 2012. The setting takes place like an actual live game show taped in front of a live studio audience. Guests get to participate and have a chance to take home a dozen Hasbro games per sailing. In case you didn’t know, Hasbro owns games such as Sorry!, Connect Four, Operation, and Yahtzee.
Overall, I was impressed with Carnival Sunshine. Having sailed Carnival Destiny in the past, they did a great job with the refurbishment. Like every refurbishment and implementing new concepts for the first time, I am sure there were snags along the way but they seemed to be worked out by the second time I sailed on her.
- Pre-book your dining in advance. Depending on what time of year you go, it could be hard to get a reservation if you don’t book in advance.
- Dine the first night at the steakhouse, usually, there’s an incentive like a free bottle of wine.
- JiJi’s Asian Kitchen does to-go orders so you can bring the food back to your room or enjoy it on your balcony.
- Avoid lines and use the automated folio fun machines to check your balance, apply payments to your account, and manage your account. They are located on decks two, four, and five.
This ship is a food lover’s paradise so eat up and enjoy your sailing!