Friday, June 13, 2014

Carnival Sunshine Review

Carnival Sunshine Review

May 30 - June 6, 2014

Just The Facts:
Ship:  Carnival Sunshine
Ship Captain: Isidoro Renda
Cruise Director: Jamie Dee
Ports: Port Canaveral, Aruba, Curaçao, Grand Turk
Weather:  Good

I won a Travel Agent contest last fall and this was a ‘freebie’ cruise for me.  At the time of winning I picked the longest available cruise at the time and it was this 8-day cruise on the Carnival Sunshine. This is my 5th cruise on the new Carnival Sunshine, 44th Carnival Cruise, and 91st cruise overall.  I am cruising as a solo and do have some good cruise friends on board.

Day Zero—Thursday—Travel

Since I have such an early flight on Saturday morning to Orlando from DFW airport I chose to drive up to the DFW Metroplex and take advantage of the Stay & Fly program at a LaQuinta Inn.  My rate was for one night accommodation and parking was $115+taxes, very fair I thought.  I left the ranch about 6:00 pm, late to avoid traffic and arrived about 8:30 pm.  My room was very nice.

Day One—Friday—Travel--Port Everglades—Embarkation

Port Canaveral, Florida
I had a 4:30 am wake up call to catch the 5:00 am shuttle to the airport since my boarding time was 7:00 am. (I thought the 6:00 shuttle would cut it too close.) It was a very easy security and bag check-in that early at DFW and I was at my gate by 6:00 am.  Complementary WiFi at DFW so the wait was fine.  My flight was great since I had an upgrade to 1st Class. To avoid bad weather we flew over Houston and Galveston Island then SE across the Gulf  arriving in Orlando just a little late about 11:30 am EST.  I met my friends who had flown in the evening before in the baggage claim area. A little concern when my bag wasn’t on the baggage belt, but it turned out my bag had taken an even earlier flight and was in the baggage office. No harm though as we had to wait for the Carnival shuttle bus that left about 12:15 pm.  It was about 55 minutes to the port and since we were behind the early crowd check in was very easy and we were on the ship by 1:30.  We were all familiar with the ship having just sailed on a B2B on the Sunshine earlier this year so we agreed to drop our bags and meet in the Havana Bar area for lunch.  My cabin is in my favorite area on deck 8 aft and next to the aft elevators.  I dropped my carry on bag and only had to go up one flight of stairs to the Havana Bar.  Surprisingly the lines for the Mongolian Grill were short so that was my choice for a very good lunch.  After lunch we went in search of the Steakhouse display and made reservations for dinner there this evening.  A subsequent  stroll down Promenade deck led to the pleasant surprise of seeing the Alchemy Bar open early.  We stopped and met the new Alchemist Gabriel and I had a welcome aboard Quick Fix cocktail.  Soon Miro the other Alchemist we have known for many cruises arrived and we were having so much FUN we almost got caught up in the Boat Drill.  I went to my cabin and met my Cabin Steward Dika and he had already placed my bag in the cabin.  Very soon we had cast off and began our sail away from Port Canaveral.  I made a quick telephone call home before we lost service then watched us sail through the port into the Atlantic. This is my first cruise from this port and overall impression is good.  I then began to unpack and settle into my cabin. The cabin is a standard Carnival balcony on starboard side and very comfortable especially for a solo.  The Welcome Show was at 7:30 pm in the Liquid Lounge, but knowing I could watch it later on cabin TV, I met my friends at the Alchemy for aperitifs and Gabriel fixed a special spicy cocktail that was very unique, I know a splash of jalapeño infused vodka was involved.  We had 8:30 reservations in the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse.  I ordered: the Escargot Bourguignon, the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, and the Broiled Prime New York Strip Loin Steak.  All were very good.  For dessert the three of us shared: the Cheesecake with Hazelnut Biscuit, Caramelized Washington Apples, and the Chocolate Sampler.  On the first TWO nights in the steakhouse they include a bottle of wine for the table.  A very nice evening.

Day Two—Saturday--Fun Day at Sea

Atrium Bar - Carnival Sunshine
Smooth seas and partly cloudy skies this morning and I enjoyed my 9+ hours of restful sleep. About 9:15 am I went down to Sunrise Dining Room (MDR) for the Sea-Day Brunch.  I ordered the featured Steak & Eggs and they were very good this morning.  The MDR was very busy and I thought that was unusual since there are more breakfast locations and choices on the Sunshine than any ship in the fleet. Guests will discover the other alternatives.  After breakfast I went to the lobby bar and purchased the Cheers Cocktail Program.  Since the Alchemy Bar is so fun and the fact this cruise is a freebie I thought I would splurge for it…so another Bloody Mary and some people watching from the lobby bar.  I went up to the Serenity Deck and it was packed, but a sudden small rain shower cleared the area for a new round of guests.  I enjoyed a soda and ginger ale at the Serenity Deck Bar (soft drinks are included in the Cheers program) and did some more people watching.  I had cabin time in the afternoon and began my notes for this review. They delivered some Elegant Night sweets to the cabin that were nice to have early in the day.  I met my friends at the Alchemy Bar at 6:30 and both the Bar and Ocean Plaza were packed.  We were fortunate to get a seat, but did so and enjoyed some wonderful cocktails by our Alchemists until dinner.  The reason that the Promenade area was packed with guests is that they have started a new program that you have to check in at a table on the Promenade Deck to get a table assignment for Your Time dining.  IMHO it was an disjointed mess:  Stand in line to make a reservation on Promenade, then wait to be called back to the table on Promenade, then receive a ticket with table assignment, then go down to the MDR to again stand in a long line to be seated.  We requested a table in center of the MDR as we knew the waiters and said we would wait as long as it takes to get that location.  Of course we were assigned a table completely away from that location, in fact, furthest away from the kitchen in a poor location. Very frustrating since we had gone to that much trouble.  That being said, George, our waiter (from Romania), was very good and provided great service.  I ordered The White Stuffed Mushrooms, Spaghetti Carbonara (as a starter), the Choice Prime Rib, and Banana Split for dessert.    After dinner it was to the Alchemy for a nightcap.  I had a Miro special Cherry Kiss and then a Deal Closer before retiring.

Day Three--Sunday—Fun Day at Sea

Red Frog Pub - Carnival Sunshine
A little rolling during the night and clear skies.  I went to the Sunrise MDR again for the Sea Day Buffet and had a Bloody Mary cocktail, Fruit Plate, a side of Bacon, and the Huevos Rancheros .  During breakfast the ship temporally lost power, but only for a few (10+) minutes.  Both the Captain and Jamie made announcements. When I returned to the cabin I left a message for the Matre’D hoping to get some help with dinner assignments.  I went to look at the shoppes and I had a diet coke and nice visit at the lobby bar with Ting and Feby who were working there on three of my previous Sunshine cruises. I stopped by the Taste Bar and got a very nice salad for lunch that I took to my cabin and ate on the balcony.  After a little TV time, I went by the Red Frog Pub (RFP) for a Banks beer then took a walk on deck and found it was packed everywhere on Lido and Serenity decks. Guests were enjoying the warm weather, there were many more people on decks than I ever saw on a NOLA sailing. I met our friends early  in the Alchemy so that we could check our dining arrangements when they opened on Lido deck.  Ante did arrange for use to get a table with I Gusti in the MDR; however, we would have to go to dinner early to guarantee it.  I don’t recall ever eating this early on a cruise, I can see why some request a table by the window, I’m used to it being dark when I dine.  The good news is that we have a very nice table location with a great waiter we know very well. They even assembled the old wait team from our recent B2B on Sunshine for photos.  After dinner we went to the Alchemy Bar for cocktails and the ‘regulars’ were all there so FUN times. We attempted to see the 9:15 Comedy show going 15 minutes early, but it was already full.  The venues are so small on the Sunshine and I refuse to stand in a line for 45 minutes to see a 30 minute comedy show.  The Motor City production show was also tonight at 9:15, a good show, but I’ve seen it a few times so I got a good bar seat location in the lobby to watch Jamie’s Mardi Gras Party.  Great fun and worth it just to see Jamie do the splits on the lobby bar.  Being used to late dinner it was a different experience this evening. 

Day Four—Monday—Aruba

Trolley in Oranjestad, Aruba
Seas were rolling a bit and cloudy skies this morning. I  went up to Lido to get a very nice Western omelette from the omelette station for breakfast.  Also a side of potatoes and bacon and still no bacon police on the Sunshine.  All was great.  I had cabin time this morning and prepared a bag of laundry to be sent out, complementary laundry is one of the better perks for Platinum and Diamond guests.  We docked about 12:15 and they opened the gangway about 12:45, a little before the scheduled 1:00 pm time.  I went up to the Mongolian Grill to get lunch about 1:00, the Mongolian is one of my favorites and not too busy on a port day.  I met my friends and we left the ship about 2:00 pm.  You debark right in the town of Oranjestad so the town is easily walkable.  Aruba has very nice beaches and locals were offering 2 hour island tours for $20 pp.  We chose to walk around the town and first stop was a small unique bar on the harbor for a pitcher of Heinekin beer.  We came across the local trolly car and rode it for a little tour of the city.  We then stopped at a bar called Mojitos for some of the local beer and use their Wifi.  Oranjestad seems to be in a restoration process with many buildings being remodeled, there can be a combination of nice properties, derelict buildings, and restorations all in the same block.  On any cruise call in Aruba, I would recommend a beach day or tour, you could skip the city except for a quick souvenir stop.  We returned to the ship about 6:00 and it was straight to the shower to clean up from a hot sticky day.  I went up to the Alchemy about 7:30 for an aperitif then to dinner about 8:00 pm.  Very slow in the MDR since we are actually still in port until 10:00 pm and we had our center table even though it was late, it did start filling up with late comers though.  I ordered the Tom Ka Gai (soup), Faralle Pasta with Turkey (as a starter), Beef Stroganoff and Bitter & Blanc and Tiramasi for dessert.  Other entree options were: Assorted Seafood Newburg Style, Baised Lamb, Fillet of Atlantic Salmon, and Black Bean & Vegetable Enchiladas.   After dinner it was a FUN night in the Alchemy Bar, the regulars were there and the Alchemists were concocting very unique cocktails.  It was 1:00 am before returning to the cabin.

Day Five—Tuesday—Curaçao

Willemstad, Curaçao
Windy weather and choppy seas overnight.  I slept very well and we were already docked when I  awoke about 9:00 am.  I relaxed then went up to the Lido to get breakfast from the Blue Iguana burrito bar.  About 10:15 I met my friends at the Lobby Bar for our adventure into town.  We are docked at the outer Mega Pier just a short walk into town through the Renascence Center and Fort Rif.  The town of Willemstad is a beautiful and clean city with unique old Dutch architecture.  We crossed the historic wooden swinging bridge into the old town that certainly has a European feel about it and looked around at the shoppes making our way to the Fish Market and outdoor fruit market.  Willemstad, Curaçao also has community Wifi so you can use the internet most everywhere, we stopped at a very nice outdoor restaurant, Eetcafe de Buren, located at one of the squares for a few beers and to update our email.  Good timing, I was able to live IM the wife back at the ranch, guess she has a rattlesnake problem, always something exciting happening there.  We looked around more of the old town on the way back to the wooden bridge and the ship.  I would certainly recommend any cruise call in Curacao as a ‘city’ day in Willemstad. Upon return to the ship a Guy’s Burger and diet Coke really tasted good.  I returned to the cabin to clean up and a little rest.  We had sail away about 4:00 and the ship had to really fight the high wind to get off the pier…interesting.  They had the VIFP party at 4:45 and I just popped in for a few minutes, but was able to speak with Jamie Dee for the first time, she really is a big asset to Carnival as one of the best Cruise Directors in the fleet.  No one is more energetic than Jamie.  It was off to the Alchemy Bar for an aperitif cocktail and meet my friends for dinner.  We asked for Senvile as our waiter and were assigned a very nice booth with both a view through the aft windows and also the main part of the MDR.  I like it, eating earlier is growing on me.  Senvile was our head waiter for our B2B in February and he really took care of us this evening…we had much more food than we ordered including:  two double Shrimp Cocktails, Wild Mushroom Creme Soup, Grilled Red Snapper Fillet, Panko Crusted Shrimp, and Petite Filet Mignon & Braised Boneless Short-Rib with Pumpkin Pie for dessert.  A lot to eat and I was actually ready to retire after all that, but the Alchemy was calling.  The feature show was magician Bobby Borgia, very entertaining, but I have seen him several times so direct to deck five.  Much quieter at the Alchemy this evening so after visiting with a few bar regulars, Miro, Gabriel, and Kunyakorn it was off to the cabin for sleep.

Day Six—Wednesday—Fun Day at Sea
Winsu - I Gusti - Senvile & Happy Guests
Somewhat smooth seas overnight, and a cloudy humid sea day.  I had a good 9+ hour nights sleep.  I went to the MDR for the Sea Day brunch and again had the Steak & Eggs, a great breakfast.  I went to Guest Services to place some cash in my Sign & Sail account and stopped at the lobby bar for a diet coke.  Knowing I was an Alchemy Bar fan they brought out a list of martinis that they did there.  I decided to go retro again and had a Brandy Alexander.  By now Trivia had started and some new friends were there so we became a team for three sets of trivia:  80’s Pop icons, Carnival Cruise Lines, & 90’s music. We did very well, it was an interesting and fun way to spend the day and I also got to see others from the FB roll call page.  It was almost 4:00 by the time I got back to the aft promenade deck and my friends had just finished the Martini classes at the Alchemy bar, so a congratulatory cocktail with the new graduates.  This is the second elegant night so it was time to prepare for dinner.  We requested and got a very nice 4-top table again with Senvile.  I ordered:  the Escargot, Shrimp Cocktails, the Chateaubriand with Sauce Bearnaise (also horseradish), and Baked Alaska for dessert.  I had to excuse myself as I was late for the Diamond Guest reception that began at 7:30 pm in Piano Bar 88. There are 22 Diamond Guests on this sailing and we enjoyed nice hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.  I met Captain Isidoro Renda who was the staff Captain previously on the Carnival Sunshine, a very nice man from Sicily.  I also didn’t waste the opportunity to let the hotel director know my opinion on the Your Time dining situation.  He did say that ‘beards’ (executives) from Miami were coming on board to review that very situation.  For Example: tonight the line to get a ticket for the MDR went from the Taste Bar to the casino by 5:20 so at least they started issuing them a little early.  Then when we were later in the MDR the line to be seated went from the MDR entry to the elevators, not a good system overall.  Following dinner I enjoyed an after-dinner cocktail at the Alchemy Bar then I returned to Piano Bar 88 as I had heard good things about the piano player and I’m so glad I did…she is wonderful.  Sing-a-long Piano with Sonjia is her gig on the ship.  I highly recommend an evening in the Piano Bar if you have the opportunity to see her.  A final nightcap and I retired to listen to some music in the cabin before retiring.

Day Seven—Thursday--Grand Turk

JiJi's Mongolian Grill available for lunch
Smooth seas overnight and nice partly cloudy weather in Grand Turk.  We were already docked when I awoke about 7:30 am.  I’m in no rush as I usually get off in this port after lunch since the only real option here is a beach day. I had a nice omelet from the omelet station and took it to the Blue Iguana for some fresh pico de gallo.  Visited with old and new friends as it seems many have the same idea about no rush to debark.  I had cabin  and balcony time this morning and watched the Carnival Glory dock next to us.  At noon I went up to get a nice Mongolian Grill, a bit busy since crew eat there on port days, but really the time to eat without a long waiting line.  With it being overcast and me still nursing a bad knee I’ve decided to just stay on board this afternoon.  Some reading and relaxation with a visit to the Red Frog Pub for a cocktail.  The RFP was a great location for watching the action on the beach below and I swear I could see Topher on the Jack’s Shack beach.  We sailed away as scheduled at 4:00 pm and my balcony is pier side with the Carnival Glory opposite, always cool to hear the ships horn and farewells from ship to ship. Tonight we ate later getting our four top table with Senville about 8:15 pm, close to our usual dining time for cruises.  Tonight I ordered:  two Shrimp Cocktails, Potage Saint Germain (Pea Soup), Barbecued Cornish Game Hen, Grilled NY Sirloin Steak, and Bread Pudding Cake with Ice Creme for dessert.  A very good meal and after only one Deal Closer from the Alchemy it was time for me to retire.

 Day Eight—Friday--Fun Day at Sea
Serenity Pool - Carnival Sunshine
Partly cloudy and occasional showers in the area, but over all a nice day.  I was up early and had a nice omelet in the Havana Bar then went to the Excursion desk to many queries about the Space Center tour with airport drop off.  I have a late flight on Saturday.  I met my friends for in the Lobby Bar then we went to the final Sea Day Brunch in the Sunrise Dining Room, I ordered a Bloody Mary, the wonderful Flaming Tomatoes Soup, the Hey Pork Chop, and Banana Creme Pie for dessert. More of lunch for me and it was very good.  I still have all the magazines I brought along so I read this afternoon and enjoyed the balcony.  A nice easy relaxing afternoon. I did go to the Lobby bar to hear Guitar Music with Adam and enjoy a cocktail. Time for an aperitif then our final dinner of the cruise.  We ate about 8:00ish with Senior Head Waiter Senvile and for dinner tonight I ordered the New England Crab Cake, the Prime Rib, Panko Crusted Jumbo Shrimp, and Grand Mainer Souffle. Very good dinner.  Tonight is probably the best Production Show: Epic Rock.  All four Playlist Production shows on the Carnival Sunshine are very entertaining.  Final nightcap and good-byes at the Alchemy before retiring.  It was my goal to reach the limit on my Cheers program today since I had not come close and I did make that goal.  Time to retire to the cabin.

Debarkation — Saturday—Port Canaveral, Florida

We were docked early this morning and I was up early enough to go to the MDR for a nice breakfast this morning.  I’m doing self debark and I think more than half the ship is as well.  I had to go by Guest Services this morning to have two laundry charges removed, but I got to visit CD Jamie as she was doing a thorough job with announcing the debarkation.  Amazing that she can take the time for guests even when in the middle of such a job.  I was off the ship, through Customs, and on a Airport shuttle by 9:30 am.  Pretty smooth actually and Port Canaveral had three ships this morning.  I was too early to check bags for my 4:50 pm flight so a nice lunch and internet time.  I did get another 1st Class upgrade that made the flight very nice.  We arrived at D/FW about 7:30 CST and I had just a short wait for my shuttle.  A two hour drive and I was at the ranch about 10:00 pm.

Complete Redesign: May 2013 - formerly the Carnival Destiny (1996)
Passenger Capacity: 3,002 | Onboard Crew: 1040  |  Length: 892 feet
Gross Tonnage: 102,853 tons  | Cruising Speed: 22.5 knots
Always kept very clean and ship shape.  Largest Serenity Deck in the fleet, Great water works area, Multiple food venues including Guy’s Burgers, and updated public areas.

Crew / Staff
All the crew and staff were very efficient and professional.  My cabin stewards did a great job.  My head waiters & staff were wonderful and very professional.  I have never been greeted by name more by a wider variety of staff and crew than I was on this cruise.  Some may have remembered me from previous cruises, but many are new to the ship.  I know Carnival is emphasizing this, but this ship is truly amazing.

I had cabin 8299 a category 8D balcony located right at the aft elevator and stairwell on deck 8.  I like this location as your only one deck below the Lido buffet for food, ice, drinks, etc..  It’s a standard Carnival balcony cabin with: a three section wardrobe, full couch, punch code safe, Flat screen TV, hair dryer, and small stool for desk/vanity.  The bathroom door opens inward that can take space away.  They installed a new digital thermostat while on the cruise, not sure how much of an improvement that will be, but to me, it got warm during the night.

Dining Rooms

There have already been three changes to assigned dining on this ship. First it was in the Sunset MDR (Europe & Transatlantic), then the Sunrise MDR (from NOLA), and now back into the Sunset.   I have already mentioned the current jumbled mess:  Stand in line to make a reservation on Promenade, then wait to be called back to the table on Promenade, then receive a ticket with table assignment, then go down to the MDR to again stand in a long line to be seated.  I suspect they require check in on Promenade because after arrival in New Orleans and before they moved the assigned to Sunrise, many guests actually just ignored the assignments and seated themselves taking over the Sunrise dining room.  Worst night is first formal night by far and It did seem to get somewhat better the later in the cruise, but primarily because many people gave up on the system.  The beard (executive) who authorized the two-top tables in Sunrise needs to admit the mistake and make the change.  I know Your-Time dining was becoming very popular at that time, but that trend has now peaked.  The food on Carnival ships is usually good to very good and this cruise was typical.  Guy’s Burgers, Mongolian Grill, and Room Service was very good to excellent.  The entire MDR service team was excellent and wait service was wonderful everywhere on ship.


As mentioned this is my 5th cruise on Sunshine so I didn't do a lot of activities or go to many shows, please read all 5 reviews for a wider perspective of this ship.  The Freedom cruises I just took from Fort Lauderdale was a mixture of guests from across the US and Florida, this cruise was very much a Florida resident value cruise.  Just my observation and somewhat a generalization, but they tend to concentrate on cruise basics: the sun decks, the casino, and the MDR for most meals.   They didn’t tend to take advantage of all the alternatives offered on the Sunshine and it was very crowded in the three venues mentioned.  Very crowded.  This was my 5th cruise on the Sunshine, but I doubt I return, at least not until they change the Dining Room assignments.

Cruise Highlights:

Carnival Sunshine Officers, Staff, & Crew
Sunrise MDR service: Senior Head Waiter Senvile, Head waiter I Gusti, &  Wisnu
Alchemy Bar & staff: Miro, Gabriel, & Kunyakorn
The port of Curacao
Mongolian Grill  (JiJi's)
Pastelitos de Guayaba y Queso from the Havana Bar

The End

1 comment:

Kat Mac said...

Great review! We are going on this same itinerary on the Sunshine in February. I'm so surprised to read that assigned dining is jumbled, would have expected that from My Time Dining based upon our experience on Liberty in January. It's actually making me a little nervous since I'm going to be traveling with a large group. Any tips to avoid issues?