Thursday, March 6, 2014

Carnival Sunshine Cruise Review


Carnival Sunshine Cruise Review

February 16, 2014

Just The Facts
Ship:  Carnival Sunshine
Ship Captain: Roberto Leotta   
Cruise Director: Butch Begovich
Ports: New Orleans, Roatan, Belize, Cozumel
Weather:  Excellent all week

This is my 40th Carnival cruise, 3rd time on the Carnival Sunshine, and 86th cruise overall. I am cruising with my dear wife (DW) and the fantastic group of experienced cruisers: the Snoozemates.  As well as 688 fellow Bloggers on John Heald’s 7th annual Bloggers Cruise (BC7).  My first Bloggers cruise was BC2 also sailing from New Orleans on the Fantasy so we have come full circle. This is also the first week of a Back-to-Back (B2B) cruise.

Day Zero--Saturday--Travel
We overslept and was awakened by a call from our car dealer so a bit of a late start.  The good news is that we are driving our brand new 2014 GMC Acadia.  We left the ranch about 10:30 am and headed south again using the same wonderful Texas backroads I traveled last month on the way to NOLA. The weather was good, the drive wonderful, and we arrived in Gonzales, Louisiana about 7:00 pm. to stay overnight at the LaQuinta.  We visited the new Cabela’s store just up the’s a huge store with museum, aquarium, and more...a very interesting sporting goods operation.  Most of the Snoozemates’ are partying in the French Quarter this evening and I know having a great time.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
Beautiful Serenity Deck on Carnival Sunshine
We left Gonzales about 9:45 am for the easy one hour drive to NOLA and the cruise terminal arriving about 10:45 am.  We parked at the official port of NOLA Julia Street Terminal.  It is pricey @ $16.00 a day, but it has a baggage drop, covered parking for the new car, and it’s just an elevator ride down to cruise check-in area. Also since we are cruising for two weeks and they only collect for one it is a value this trip.  Down the elevator to the nice VIP area for check-in and we were processed about 11:30.  We then proceeded to boarding and it was very busy, but we made it on board and to our cabin about noon.  We have an aft facing balcony on deck 8.  We began seeing friends immediately as their cabins are all in the area  Then it was up to the Havana Bar were we had some group tables for cocktails and Mongolian Grill (JiJi’s) for lunch.  This is a great spot for our group to meet as it’s directly above our cabins and one has the choice of Cuban Food, Mongolian Grill, Cucina Del Capitano (Italian), or the Lido Buffet across the way.  Many thought the Cuban Iced Tea from the Havana Bar was an excellent cocktail.  Some explored the ship, I returned to my cabin and my bag arrived, but none of the others.  Boat Drill was about 4:00 pm, and we sailed away about 4:30 pm.  DW was getting somewhat concerned with no bag as yet, but it seemed many had not received all their luggage.  The first bloggers event was Welcome Cocktails in the Liquid Lounge at 5:00 pm and it was a full house of Bloggers.  I enjoyed a few Funship Specials and visited with friends and bloggers, a FUN event.  Following it was time for a visit to the Alchemy Bar then to the cabin to prepare for dinner.  DW’s bags had arrived and all is now well.  Matre’D Ken arranged for three excellent tables in the center of the dining room for our group. Perfect.  It is traditional Carnival menu items tonight and I had the Creme of Sun-ripened Tomato Soup, Linguine & Sausage as a starter, Gazpacho, the Tilapa entree, and two desserts: the Creme Brulee & the Black Forest Gateau Cake. The shops do not open until we are out of the Mississippi River, but the casino and bars are doing a brisk business.  Most of the group who had partied in the French Quarter the previous night made it an early night.  I retired soon after to get some last minute free internet time while in the river and rest.  A great first day.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
Snoozemates 'Morning Glory' Party
Very calm in the Gulf of Mexico and I had a very good nights sleep.  Nice and sunny today and quickly warming.  DW ordered her usual room service breakfast and about 8:40 am I went up to the Havana Bar and had a very nice omelet from the omelet station.  Soon I was joined by several other Snoozemates arriving for breakfast.  Nice to have a designated meeting area.  At 10:15 we went down to Piano Bar 88 for our private ‘Morning Glory’ cocktail party.  This is one of the new cocktail party options on Carnival and the first held on the Carnival Sunshine.  Cocktails include: Mimosas, Bloody Marys, Belinnis, Screwdrivers, House Sparkling Wine, Red Wine, White Wine, Sodas, Regular Coffee and Tea.  in the spirit of the morning event many wore pajamas and EVERYONE arrived in their white Carnival cabin bathrobes.  Very funny.  With just our small group the service was excellent, thanks Jermaine, and very soon everyone was in a very spirited mood.  After the party we all met in the Havana Bar area to continue the party and have lunch.  People had their favorites including Guy’s Burgers, Mongolian Grill, or Pasta from the Cucina. The ‘Havana Iced Tea’ from the bar was very good too.  Several had enrolled in the Cocktail Seminar at the Alchemy Bar this afternoon and several attended the ‘Friends of John H’ cocktail party in the Limelight Lounge.  It was nice visiting with  other friends and bloggers. This was certainly a full day for cocktails so by 5:00 I needed a nice nap that extended into cabin time for the rest of the evening.  DW had a nice dinner from Lido so we didn’t make it to the MDR this evening.  The rest of the group enjoyed various activities including:  the Casino, the production show Latin Nights, Adam Coe in the Red Frog, The Swamp Thang Band was in the Ocean Plaza, Ben in the Piano Bar, and Percy Crews was in the comedy club with late shows. 

Day Three--Tuesday—at Sea
Captain's Diamond Guest Luncheon
The ship rocked a little more, but another good nights sleep as we entered the Caribbean this morning. An invitation under the door this morning for a luncheon changed my plans for breakfast, I’ll save the sea Day Brunch for the last sea day.  I had another great omelet from the omelet station then enjoyed a bowl of fruit on our balcony.  It’s a beautiful day and the large balcony is wonderful.  We were invited to the Captain’s Luncheon for Diamond guests in the Steakhouse 55 at noon so we went to the Library Bar for a glass of wine prior, this is the only bar on the Sunshine that I had not previously visited.  They have an automatic wine dispenser as well as a small bar.  At noon we entered the Steakhouse, they had assigned seating and we sat with friends that I knew, Caroline the Guest Services Manager, and  Linda the Housekeeping Director.  They had a set menu with choice of entree between Salmon or Chicken.  I started with the unique mini salad of mozzarella cheese and cherry tomatoes, pasta course of spaghetti, the Chicken Roulade entree with a mushroom creme sauce, and a selection of three small Creme Brûlées for dessert.  They also served wonderful breads with three flavors of butter, choice of wines, sparkling water, and sides of Spinach and Creamed Potatoes. They prepared a vegetarian dish of Mixed Vegetables in a phyllo wrap for DW.  It was a very nice and enjoyable lunch experience. Thanks Carnival.  There was a Crazy cocktail party after lunch and balcony time, but I was really looking forward to the Alchemy Bar opening at 4:00.  I was carrying messages from the Triumph Alchemy bar crew for the Sunshine Alchemy bar crew and had not had a chance to deliver them.  Great fun with them and other Diamond friends at the Alchemy.  We went down to the Limelight/Punchliner to see Al Ernst’s comedy show at 6:45, he has become a regular for Bloggers cruises and was very funny as usual.  The Snoozemate’s crew then met up in the Ocean Plaza area for an aperitif.  Dinner was good tonight, I ordered the French Onion Soup, Pasta, the Short Ribs entree, and Strawberry Cheesecake for dessert.  Motor City was the production show this evening and they had the big Mardi Gras Party in the lobby area.  The group split up for various FUN activities this evening.

Day Four— Wednesday--Roatan, Honduras
Mahogany Bay - Roatan
Calm seas and a good nights sleep.  I was up early and watched us back into the pier at Mahogany Bay, we were docked before 7:00 am.  Since it’s a port day the breakfast venues opened early and I went down the The Sunrise MDR for Melon, Omelet, Corned Beef Hash, and Bacon.  DW did room service as usual.  We were in no rush as we didn’t have any specific plans and went ashore about 10:00 am.  We walked to the beach and it was very crowded with both the Carnival Dream and Sunshine docked.  We headed back to the shopping area and there saw our friends so decided on a few drinks at Fat Tuesdays that soon became 15 friends, 7-8 buckets of beer, cocktails and nachos.  What a wonderful group we have.  I returned to the ship about 2:30 and had a Guy’s burger then went to the Serenity Deck to cool off in the swimming pool and waterfall.  After almost an hour of lying in the warm sun I had another Guy’s burger on the way back to the cabin for a short nap. One of the group had a wonderful sail away cocktail party for us at 6:00 pm in their suite.  Excellent  h’orderves, small bar,  wines, and snacks.  Thank you very much.  It was now time for dinner, I ordered the Tom Kai Guy soup, the very good Bowtie Pasta with Turkey, the Lamb entree, and Bitter & Blanc and Tiramisu for dessert.  John Heald brought in a special entertainer for just the blogger group, Gronway Thom, so we attended his one and only show at 10:00 pm in the Liquid Lounge.  He is a comedy juggler with a lot of audience participation and should be seen at least once.  Not everyone's cup-of-tea, but I found him very entertaining.  It was now time for my late cocktail, The Deal Closer, from the Alchemy Bar before retiring.  Another great day on the Carnival Sunshine.

Day Five—Thursday--Belize
Maitre’D Ken Byrne
Another good nights sleep and calm seas.  I was up early again and it was a beautiful Caribbean Sunrise as we approached Belize.  We were anchored about 8:00 am near the Carnival Glory.  Some day they will have a pier here, but for a long while this will remain a tender port.   It is about a 15-20 minute ride from the ship to the pier in Belize City.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered Eggs Benedict, Potatoes, Bacon, and Corned Beef Hash.  It was very good.  DW had room service with extra tea, honey and lemon for her sore throat.  I went to a Bloggers Q&A event hosted by John Heald in the Red Frog Pub at 10:00 am.  It was cabin time following until noon when I had a very nice Mongolian Grill for lunch.  A lazy afternoon on board ship as I decided not to go ashore.  We sailed about 4:15 pm and the VIFP party was held at 4:30 in the Liquid Lounge.  Butch, the CD, did a good job keeping the party exciting. There were 44 Diamond Guests on board.  The party continued into the Red Frog Pub and actually continued until 8:15 dinner with most Snoozemates coming and going as they prepared for dinner.  When I returned I had a birthday ‘Fish Bowl’ size cocktail I was only able to finish with the help of friends.  For dinner I ordered the Eggplant, Escargot, Pasta, and Chateaubriand.  For dessert it was Birthday Cake and Baked Alaska as the waiters and Maitre’D Ken Byrne sang Happy Birthday for me. Very nice…thanks friends.  Ken sang again for us tonight and the MDR wait team did the song: What Does the Fox Say?  Most of the venues again had good entertainment scheduled, but I had a Cherry Kiss and a ‘Deal Closer’ at the Alchemy Bar as my nightcaps and retired by 11:30. A FUN and interesting day.

Day Six--Friday--Cozumel, Mexico
Carnival Sunshine docked at Puerto Maya Cozumel
A bright sunny day as we approach Cozumel.  DW is still feeling under the weather so is planning a cabin day, I’m glad we have the aft balcony this week for her benefit. I watched the Freedom of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas follow us in and dock next to us at the International pier then I went down to the Sunset MDR for a nice breakfast of Fried Eggs, Bacon, CB Hash, Potatoes, Melon, and Leche Caliente.  By the time I finished we were docked with the Carnival Magic next to us.  Today  the girls went to Paradise Beach and the guys went to San Miguel.  We made our HQ at Woody’s Bar owned by my friend Nelly and used her super fast internet and three of us got haircuts from my barber Martin.  Great people watching place as we enjoyed Cerveza, Coca-Cola Light, Guacamole & Chips, and Tequila.  About 2:00 pm we were joined by some of the ladies and we went to Wet Windy’s for their great Margaritas and to eat.  It was quite a feast.  We got a taxi and returned to the Puerto Maya pier and was back in the cabin by 4:00.  After cleaning up we met in the suite above the gangway for the 5:00 pm sail away, always fun to see the late runners and the waves from the guest on the Magic as we back away from the pier.  I took a nap and DW was not feeling up for dinner so I had room service with her this evening and we had a casual cabin evening and watched the Winter Olympics on TV.  I know the group enjoyed the casino, the Hasbro Game show, the Punchliner Comedy Shows, and more.

Day Seven—Saturday—February 22—at Sea
What Does the Fox Say?
I had a very good long and restful nights sleep.  Today is my birthday.  Smooth seas and I was up early again this morning.  I enjoyed a good breakfast at the Sea Day Brunch, I ordered the Steak & Eggs and it was prepared very well.  After brunch I had cabin time and reviewed my ship account, they have two kiosks that will print your statement for you and save a trip to Guest Services.  Unfortunately they do not have an interactive TV system. The morning was very nice and sunny and guests enjoyed the outdoor activities.  Our group including DW who is now feeling better met at 11:30 am and had the Sea Day Brunch (lunch for me) in the Sunrise MDR.  We did a ‘girl’ table and a ‘boy’ table as we have been known to do.  I ordered the Tomato Soup, Grilled Pork Chop, and ice creme for dessert. It was very good.  It was a good sea day and I was greeted by many on board with birthday greetings including a call from Guest Services.  The weather got cooler once we reached a cold front late in the afternoon, but guests have had great weather all cruise.  At 4:00 pm liquor can be taken from the Ship shop so I got a bottle of spiced rum for the following week. The production Show this evening was:   Epic Rock, perhaps the best show of the week, we hope to attend more shows next week.  The group met for cocktails before dinner in the Ocean Plaza, a good location as you can order Alchemy cocktails or standard bar cocktails or beer from the Red Frog as both haver severs in that area.  We had all our tables full for our final dinner,  I ordered the Grilled Chicken Breast on Fettuccine and two Panko Crusted Jumbo Shrimp.  For dessert I had the Grand Manier Souffle.  Ken sang again for us again tonight and the wait team again did the song: What Does the Fox Say?  Much better than the usual Bags are Packed song.  Following dinner I went to my favorite bar, The Alchemy.  Since we are now well in the Mississippi River I had wifi from my personal hotspot so checked some late email and arrange some items to pack for the following morning.

We arrived back in NOLA very early and I was up and using the internet by 5:00 am.  It will be an easy Debark as we are actually staying on board ship. We started packing about 7:00 am as we do have to change cabins today.  I went up to Lido for a very nice omelet. Then we began our B2B process. Easy.

Crew / Staff
I found the crew to be very good as on all previous Sunshine sailings.  I was able to again meet many ships officers through the Diamond reception and VIFP party. The ship is in very capable hands.  My cabin steward team was adequate, our MDR waiters were much better than my previous Sunshine cruise.  The bartenders were all great.  Bar servers all very good. Ken Byrne as always is awesome as both singer and Matre’D.  I enjoyed getting to know Linda the HouseKeeping Manager and sat with Caroline the Guest Services manager again, such a sweetheart. John Heald’s Blogger staff did a great job, I also enjoyed seeing Stephanie who used to be on John’s team and is now on her last week as the ACD on the Sunshine. 

We had cabin 8330 a category 8N aft facing balcony on deck 8.  It is the first time I have had an original cabin on the ship.  We have had this cabin location on many Carnival ships and the cabin is slightly smaller, but the balcony is very nice perhaps even larger than the same location on Conquest class and definitely larger than Dream class ships.  Great balcony, cabin not so much.  The cabin is the usual layout with glass door at balcony (not sliding), full couch, three closets (a bit smaller), nice table, one bed stand (no lamps), push button safe, and stool at dresser/desk.  No mini refrigerator, no mirror.  The new downside to this cabin is the music late at night from the Havana Bar, it didn’t bother me, but it did friends in similar cabins.

Needs improvement
They should have never sold any FTTF (Fastest to the Fun) passes since there were well over 600+ Priority Guests booked.  They could not properly handle that many VIP’s and baggage wasn’t delivered until 8:00 pm for many.  Also that was too many cabins to have ready at boarding, ours was only half way prepared and some not ready at all.  One should not believe the claims that FTTF’s are not sold on sailings with many VIFP’s booked, they are.

Cruise Highlights
Sailing with Snoozemates & other Blogger Friends.  It’s always nice to see friends and familiar faces all week long on the ship.  The Alchemy Bar is my favorite bar by far.  The Diamond Luncheon was wonderful.

Another Great Bloggers Cruise !

Thanks to John J,  Kaye G,  &  Zydeco for photos

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