Line: Carnival Cruise Lines
Built: Debuted in November 1996 as Carnival Destiny; renovated and reflagged Carnival Sunshine in May 2013.
Passengers: 3,006 passengers
Class: Sunshine class
Itinerary: Sailing 7-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries out of New Orleans until April 2014, when she moves to Port Canaveral.
With the line’s signature low rates, this is a ship that serves both value-oriented families and couples, and works hard to entertain both.
Those who hate crowds of friendly, fun-loving Americans.
- Impressive water slides turn midair, offering long, satisfying rides.
- The reimagined Serenity adult-only area is three stories high, with a lot more space.
- The Punchliner Comedy Club shows four shows per week, with many performances of each so that, despite the lounge’s size, all guests get a chance to check them out.
- The elegant Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse trumps steakhouses on more expensive ships.
Guy’s Burger Joint, helmed by Food Network star Guy Fieri, serves up the best burgers at sea.
Carnival Sunshine is actually a $155 million renovation of the 17-year-old Carnival Destiny. So what’s the ship like now that it has been retrofit with all the line’s latest bells and whistles and renamed Carnival Sunshine? We sailed on her first Caribbean sailing to find out, and were pleasantly surprised. If you had told us in advance that this was a straight-up new ship, we might have even believed you.
When it comes to the food, Carnival has always been known more for volume and variety than for quality or attention to detail, but there were many, many more hits than misses on our sailing.
The most memorable: The Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse is elegant, with a “Mad Men” vibe and beautifully plated, thoughtfully executed modern takes on steakhouse classics. Escargot come wrapped hors d’oeuvre-style in puff pastry, and you can get steaks on the bone with proper charring and grill marks. We had to pinch ourselves when stunning, architectural, lobster ravioli came out. By the time dessert was served — the highlight of which is the quartet of chocolate tastings layered in glass jars with honey ice cream and booze-spiked whipped cream — the $35 per person surcharge seemed more like an incredible bargain than a burden.
Guy’s Burger Joint, helmed by Food Network star Guy Fieri, is another hit. Instead of the preformed, frozen, and often prewrapped sandwiches that we’ve come to avoid on some ships, this spot serves up handmade patties from an 80/20 blend of hamburger meat — making for a juicy, if greasy, lunch. The toppings have Fieri written all over them: You can get yours with L.T.O.P. (lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle), S.M.C. (“super melty cheese,” which at least lives up to its silly moniker), a scoop of chili, or a patty of crispy bacon — and there’s also a fixings bar that has sautéed onions and mushrooms as well as a variety of condiments, including chipotle mayo and Fieri’s Donkey Sauce.
The rear of Carnival Sunshine's lido deck has been converted into a triumvirate of spaces, with Havana Bar in the middle (it becomes a place to watch live Latin music at night), Ji Ji Asian Kitchen (an omelet bar at breakfast, a Mongolian BBQ stand at lunch, and a pan-Asian fusion restaurant at night), and Cucina del Capitano, an Italian specialty restaurant serving classics like spaghetti and meatballs and veal parmesan at night and complimentary pastas at lunch.
The renovations also include the addition of a burrito bar (that offers fabulous fried fish tacos) and a milkshake bar, which serves boozy options at night. Another fun find on Deck 5: the Taste Bar, which offers appetizers in the evening — miniature bites of dishes you’ll find in the specialty restaurants. During the day, it’s a real find, offering a modified take on the Lido Deck buffet, including a nice salad bar, soups, and even playful dishes like mac and cheese spring rolls, served up without the crowds you’d find upstairs.
Not everything was perfect, mind you: A late-night buffet included a mountain of room-temperature hot dogs and long-since-cooled-down grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, and we were disappointed by a sad cone of fat-free, taste-free frozen yogurt, until we realized other machines were cranking out significantly creamier soft serve ice cream. Overall, though, the food at most meals was sure to impress all but the pickiest of eaters.
Here is where the fact that the ship was originally built in 1996 comes rushing back to you. Cabins are well designed, but they — and their balconies — are small and don’t have minifridges. The flat-screen TVs get the main networks (live from Miami — a welcome treat until you realize you’ll be at dinner during prime time every night), but they don’t have any interactive or on-demand features.
There are basically four categories on Carnival Sunshine: interior, oceanview, balcony, and suite, and the first three are the same configuration, making booking easy. Our Deck 8 midship cabin was quiet as can be, and our only complaint was the smell of smoke — including the occasional cigar — on our balcony from neighboring cabins, and an occasional musty smell in the bathroom.
For couples and other adults traveling without children, there are pub quizzes, Pilates classes, and a spa with steam rooms and saunas that you can buy a day pass to use, but Carnival’s reimagined Serenity adult-only area is the place to be on sea days. It’s three stories high, with a waterfall that tumbles into a small plunge pool, teak decks, a hot tub, and comfier cushion-topped lounge chairs, as well as a few luxe, pillow-topped clamshell daybeds for two. These overlook the giant movie screen as well as the staging area where musicians, such as a singer-songwriter who performs both his own work and covers of, say, John Mayer, set up in the afternoons. (These daybeds are the best seats on deck on sea days, and they fill up first.)
At night, the variety of bars and entertainment choices, including magic shows, stage productions, and adult-only comedy acts — which range from funny if predictable rants about marriage to raunchy discussions of sex — make Carnival Sunshine a fun and lively place to be.
For families, there are activities all day long for different age groups. On sea days, the multiple announcements of all of the “fun, fun, fun” choices can grow old quickly, but there’s no denying you’ll have plenty to do. (“They should really call this the ADD ship,” commented one passenger on our sailing.)
Little kids can play in the splash park or create crafts at Camp Carnival; older ones can make their own pizza and build their own stuffed animal, play basketball and try the ropes course, or compete in a round of miniature golf. Best of all, the impressive water slides that tower over the back of the ship turn midair include the line’s 334-foot-long covered Twister, which offers a long, satisfying ride that’s worth getting back in line to do again.
And just how good is Camp Carnival? One parent on our sailing feared her toddler would cry when she dropped him off, but instead, he threw a temper tantrum when she picked him up … because he was having too much fun and didn’t want to leave. Now that’s a good vacation.