Sunday, January 26, 2014

Carnival Sunshine Cruise Review

 Carnival Sunshine Cruise Review

January 19, 2014

Just The Facts
Ship:  Carnival Sunshine
Ship Captain: Carmelo Marino   
Cruise Director: Jaime Dee
Ports: New Orleans, LA, Montego Bay, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico
Weather:  Good all week

This is my 38th Carnival cruise, 2nd time on the Carnival Sunshine, and 84th cruise overall. I am cruising as a solo.

Day Zero--Saturday--Travel
I left the ranch about 9:20 am and headed south using some wonderful Texas backroads along the way. The weather was good and I arrived in Gonzales, Louisiana about 5:30 pm. to stay overnight at the new LaQuinta.  I visited the new Cabela’s store just up the’s a huge store with museum, aquarium, and more...a very interesting sporting goods operation.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
Mississippi River Bridge upon departure from NOLA
I left Gonzales about 8:45 am for the easy one hour drive to NOLA and the cruise terminal arriving before 10:00 am.  I 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, and it’s just an elevator ride down to cruise check-in area. They have a very nice VIP area for check-in area and I was processed and waiting by 10:30 and hoping for an 11:00 am boarding.  Just as I hoped by 11:00 they began announcements and soon began boarding suites, platinum & diamond guests. There were a lot in these categories, but it went well, followed by the FTTF guests.  I went strait to my cabin and it was ready and waiting for me.  I unloaded my carry on bag and was on my way to the JiJi’s grill (Mongolian on other Carnival ships) for lunch.  Even though I did not rush I was the first through the line, the Grill is a bit harder to find on the Sunshine being located in the Havana Bar area, so early guests had not discovered it.  It was very good as expected.  I then did a desert sampler plate from the Lido buffet area and returned to my table in the Havana Bar and enjoy my very filling lunch.  After lunch I returned to my cabin and very soon my bag the parking garage I asked the porter to attach the extra VIP labels that I knew they have as the printed Priority Tags are sometimes overlooked.  I was very pleased to have had a wonderful lunch, my baggage, and unpacked in my cabin by 1:00 pm. A perfect embarkation.  I then took advantage of my wifi hotspot to catch up on mail and internet.  I discovered that I had some extra OBC that I had not expected and decided to purchase the ‘Cheers’ drink card, especially since I am sailing solo and would only have to pay for one package.  I was off to the lobby to get it then had a Funship special in the Lobby bar and people watch.  I was back at the cabin before the scheduled afternoon safety drill and I was able to watch the cabin TV for the NFL playoff games.  We sailed away after 5:00 and I went to the Alchemy Bar for some early cocktails.  Comedian Lance Montalto came by before his ‘family show’ to say hello.  I readied for dinner and made Lance’s first Adult comedy show at 7:45 then strait to dinner at 8:15 in the Sunrise dining room.  Matre’D Ken arranged an excellent table in the center of the dining room and the table mates seem nice although two were an hour late.  It is traditional Carnival menu items tonight and I had the Creme of Sun-ripened Tomato Soup, Linguine as a starter, the Fried Shrimp with Plum Sauce, and two desserts: the Creme Brulee & the Black Forest Gateau Cake.  The shops don’t open until we are out of the Mississippi River, but the casino and bars are doing a brisk business.  There were two Welcome Aboard Shows, but having previously attended I walked the deck then retired soon after to get some last minute internet time and rest. 

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
Steak and Eggs
Very calm in the Gulf of Mexico and I had a very good nights sleep.  Nice and sunny today and quickly warming.  I went down to the MDR for the Sea Day Brunch, this has replaced the Punchliner’s Brunch and is an improvement: they open earlier, kept the better brunch menu, and eliminated the comedians.  I ordered a Bloody Mary, a very nice fruit plate, and the Steak & Eggs.  All very good.  Although familiar with the ship I had a nice walk about.  I did notice that they have moved some trivia out of the Ocean Plaza and into the Red Frog Pub, I think this is a smart move.  There are many more guests on deck enjoying the outdoors than there were on the Sunshine transatlantic.  It is an overall younger crowd.  I enjoyed a cocktail in the lobby bar and swapped some stories with Lance then had a late lunch at the Taste Bar on deck five.  I had a nice salad that they prepare and Egg Drop soup.  I noticed in the afternoon they had also had Karaoke in the Red Frog, it was packed and guests were having fun.  I never saw that many in there during the transatlantic, a better use of space and I’m sure they are selling more drinks.  I had a visit with entertainer Will Marion, I did not expect him to be on board so that was a pleasant surprise.  There was a beautiful sunset this evening easily viewable from my starboard side balcony a nice bonus while dressing for this evenings elegant night.  I went up to the Alchemy Bar for a few cocktails then to the Liquid Lounge to see the production show Latin Nights.  They had a technical glitch about half way through the show and since I’ve seen the show I bailed and went to the Red Frog Pub to see Will Marion.  I was glad I did as Will has progressed so much as a performer...he is a real asset for Carnival.  Tonight was Captain’s night menu and as usual great selections from the menu.  I ordered the White Stuffed Mushroom, Roasted Pumpkin Soup, the Spaghetti Carbonara, the Prime Rib, and Cherries Jubilee.  Of course Lobster was on the menu and a popular item.  Dinner was very good and enjoyable, Ken sang a song as well as the waiters.  After dinner I took a walk around deck and the ship was hopping.  Adam Coe was in the Red Frog, The Rock & Roll Time Machine was in the Ocean Plaza, Gary was in the Piano Bar, and Tony Esposito was in the comedy club with late shows.  All great performers, it really is amazing the talent on the ship.  I was very worried about the small venues on Sunshine, but the guests were evenly split among the venues so it worked very well.  A great day on the Carnival Sunshine.

Day Three--Tuesday—at Sea
Diamond Guest Brunch
Another good nights sleep and very smooth seas as we are entering the Caribbean.  I have a brunch invitation at 11:30 so I went up to Lido Buffet for a light breakfast.  I notice that the Canadian bacon is no more, but they do now have ham, interesting, more American I suppose.  This morning I am working on a project I need to complete for the Texas Scottish Festival. I took a break when they came to clean the cabin and had a Bloody Mary at the Lobby Bar.  We have one of the new ‘Morning Glory’ cocktail parties on the Sunshine in a few weeks so I’m trying all the bars and bartenders to see who makes the best.  Someone has to do it!  At 11:30 am I met the seven other Diamond guests and we had Brunch with Captain Marino and Caroline the Guest Services Director in the Sunrise Dining Room.  I had the Tomato Soup starter and the Steak & Eggs breakfast again followed by the Banana Creme Pie. It was gracious for Carnival to have a function for us and it was nice meeting the Captain and seeing Stephanie again.  Thanks Carnival. The Facebook group had a cocktail party scheduled for 2:00 pm in the Piano bar, but it was moved to the Limelight Lounge as the Piano Bar was far too small for the 60+ people.  Luckily that lounge was available and nice of Carnival to give them a full hour 2:30-3:30.  Back to work in the cabin then a cocktail at the Alchemy Bar.  I then went to see Lance Montalto’s comedy show in the Limelight lounge, it was again a packed house.  Lance treated me to dinner in the Bonsai Sushi on deck four, it was the only specialty restaurant I had not visited on the Sunshine. We had The Boat a combination of sushi, shrimp, salmon, etc. for two. We also had Soup and Sake.  Very interesting meal and I enjoyed the sushi.  I had a Tiramisu martini for dessert from the lobby bar.  Cornelius one of my favorites from the Alchemy was also there as the bartenders put on a flair show as a part of the big Mardi Gras Party in the lobby area.

Day Four--Wednesday--Montego Bay, Jamaica
Ray about to jump from the Secret Falls
Again calm seas and a good nights sleep.  Since it’s a port day the breakfast venues opened early and I went up to Havana Bar and had a wonderful omelette.  Then down to the Lobby Bar for a Bloody Mary while waiting for us to complete our docking in MoBay.  I’m joining a private tour today with 8 others to the Secret Falls.  We found our tour operator, Liberty Tours, in the designated area and were soon on our way.  Our driver was Ricardo and he did an excellent job keeping us informed and entertained.  We made a stop at Discovery Bay, passed by Rose Hall, Dunn’s River Falls, and Ocho Rios on our way to the private property were the Secret Falls and Blue Hole are located.  It was a very beautiful location where the river comes down from the mountains.  We had two guides on the river and falls and they helped show you where to step as we climbed up and down the rocks and trails. There were several dive or jumping locations and then we passed through a small hole into the rocks below and behind the big waterfall.  Amazing and I did fit (barely) through and then swam through the waterfall. We then went upriver enjoying smaller falls and swimming holes before given the opportunity to jump off the big waterfall.  There were three brave souls in our group of Jamericans that made the big jump including myself.  I admit it was a bit scary, but I’m glad I did it, not everyday you can jump from a waterfall. This was a big adventure for an old man.  I do highly recommend water shoes.  We then stopped at a group of souvenir and tourist shops before going  to Scotchies for lunch.  Our group of new friends and fellow adventurers enjoyed Jerk Chicken, Red Beans & Rice, and Festival. It was very good.  We then began our long drive back to Mo-bay, but had to make a restroom stop at the Scotchies in Iron Bay so I got some jerk pork for the road.  We got back just before sail away so we had a full day on the excursion  After cleaning up it was soon time for an apéritif at the Alchemy Bar.  Miro actually concocted a nice cherry flavored drink we called the Cherry Kiss, it is wonderful.  Dinner was good, I ordered both the Tom Kai Guy and Potato Soup, the wonderful Bowtie Pasta with Turkey, the Beef Stroganoff entree, and Bitter & Blanc and Tiramisu for dessert.  Ken noticed my soup comparison and said a new Soup chef had just come on board.  The Tom Ka Gai was good, but different than before, the Potato soup was also good, but the pasta was by far he best dish tonight.  Very long and tiring day today so I retired after dinner.

Day Five--Thursday--Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Carnival Sunshine from the Grand Cayman tender
Another good nights sleep and calm Caribbean seas.  We were already anchored off Grand Cayman when I awoke and tenders began about 7:00 am.  Looks like a partly cloudy day today and my plan is to stay onboard.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered the Eggs Benedict, Potatoes, Bacon, Tomato juice, Bloody Mary, and Leche Caliente. It was very good.  My leg muscles are very sore today after climbing up and down in the river yesterday so I hit the hot tub this morning and had a restful easy morning.  I had the Mongolian Grill today for lunch as most guests are off the ship although the Guy’s Burgers makes the grill less busy than on ships that do not have a Guy’s. As usual a lot of senior crew was there as well...they know the place to eat on port days.  This afternoon I worked on some projects until they delivered a tray of canapés to the cabin so I took a break to walk the deck...more guests have returned and taking advantage of the nice weather.  We sailed about 3:45 pm and the VIFP party was held at 4:30 in the Liquid Lounge.  Jamie Dee, the CD, makes the party exciting.  I had a nice visit with new friends and with Butch who will be our CD next month.  Afterward it was back to the cabin to get ready for our second Elegant Night. The feature entertainer tonight was Magician Bobby Borgia.  I had cocktails at the Lobby Bar before dinner and then made the walk back to the Sunrise on my still sore legs.  For dinner I ordered the Eggplant, Bing Cherry Soup, Escargot, Chateaubriand and Cheesecake for dessert.  Most of the venues again had good entertainment scheduled, but I had a ‘Deal Closer’ at the Alchemy Bar as my nightcap and retired by 11:15.  A fun lazy day.

Day Six--Friday--Cozumel, Mexico
Cornelius pouring a Martini Sampler
A partly cloudy day as we approach Cozumel.  We did not arrive until 10:00 am so I had plenty of time for a very nice relaxed breakfast in the Sunrise dining room.  The Carnival Magic is docked next to us. I left the ship about 10:45 and headed to San Miguel by taxi ($8).  I went to Woody’s Sports Bar owned by our friends Nelly and Pepe and used their Wifi for a couple of hours.  Lunch there was very good, I had  the Chicken Quesadillas.  I visited the Farmacia and had a quick Mango/Banana Margarita at Wet Wendy’s before heading back to the ship about 3:30 pm.  Just relaxing this afternoon and my balcony faces the Magic so I had a great view of their pier runners and her sailing away.  Our late arrivals caught a bit of rain before we sailed a little after 5:00 pm.  I had my special cocktail at the Alchemy and went to the production show: Studio VIP in the Liquid Lounge, it was very entertaining.  Dinner was good tonight, I ordered the Creme of Mushroom Soup, Oysters Rockefeller, the Pasta, and the Filet Mignon & Short Rib combination.  The beef dish is one of their better meat dishes IMHO.  Ken sang again for us and the wait team did the song: What Did the Fox Say?  New and very clever.  Following dinner I had another ‘Deal Closer’ at the Alchemy Bar as my nightcap. 

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Will Marion in Sunshine Lobby
It was rocky early in the night at sea, but I had a very good nights sleep.  This morning I was updating email and making some bookings online with the final minutes I have left on my internet package (240 Minutes for $89.00 ($0.37/min)).  I enjoyed a good breakfast at the Sea Day Brunch, I ordered the Steak & Eggs again and it was prepared very well.  After brunch I 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, sunny and calm until about 1:00 pm when we hit that cold front that had covered the states.  Very soon it was a light rain and VERY windy.  I did go and get a Guy’s Burger, but took it to the cabin to eat, too cool outside and the indoor spaces were quickly filling.  After a bit of work in the cabin I went to the Lobby Bar in time to see a full musical set by Will Marion, who was originally to play in the Lido pool area.  He had the place rockin’.  Didn’t need an apertif this evening as I had some unique cocktails by the great Lobby Bar bartenders during Will’s show.  The production Show was: Epic Rock, perhaps the best show of the week.  Dinner was off to me and perhaps not noticed so much by others.  I ordered the Grilled Chicken Breast on Fettuccine as starter and two entrees: Panko Crusted Jumbo Shrimp and Roasted Prime Rib of Beef, in that order, shrimp then followed by beef. The waiter gave my shrimp entree to the person on my left (who had ordered the Mac & Cheese) and gave me my Prime Rib.  She had already started eating before she realized it wasn’t what she had ordered.  We got through it, but when they remove the charger there was a large child's hand print gravy stain right in front of me.  That’s not appealing.  I also asked the cocktail server to bring two Drambuie’s for dessert, he did remember to come by and said, “would you like your Sambuca’s now?”  I specifically reminded him that it was Drambuie I wanted.  He of course still brought Sambuca and wanted me to settle for them.  Of course the whole point is that it was January 25 the Scottish Bard Robert Burns’ birthday and you toast him as they do all over the world with a Scottish drink.  Sambuca would not do.  He did finally bring Drambuie.  For dessert I had the Grand Manier Souffle.  Following dinner I went to my favorite bar, The Alchemy, for two wonderful Deal Closers.  I would have only had one, but when informed that I was one shy of the Cheers limit, I order the second just so I could say I did it once on the cruise.  I had not come close on the previous six days.  Since we are well into 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 just very early.  I was up early as I had not really started packing. I began to pack about 6:30 then went to Lido for my final omelette. They were calling self-debark guests by the time I made it back to the cabin so I finished packing and headed to deck three about 7:45 am. They had the casual inspection at Customs and I was soon to the elevator and at 4B my parking area and car by 8:20 am.  There was a light mist so the indoor parking did come in very handy.  I was soon on Interstate 10 heading to Texas and arrived at friends in Alvin about 2:30 pm to rest for my next adventure on the Triumph the following day.

Crew / Staff
I found the crew to be very good.  I was able to meet many ships officers through the Diamond reception and VIFP party. The ship is in very capable hands.  My cabin steward team was excellent, our MDR waiters were only adequate.  The bartenders were all great.  Bar servers very good. I especially enjoyed Ioana, Miro, & Cornelius in the Alchemy Bar.  Ken Byrne is awesome as both singer and Matre’D.  I enjoyed getting to know Caroline the GS Manager better, that’s a tough job.  I look forward to seeing the crew again next month.

Food / Drink
I found the food overall to be very good. Soups were excellent.  One new minor change in the MDR is that the bread is on your table and not served.  The major change and a point I listed as 'needs improvement' in previous cruise is that the set dining is now located in the Sunrise Dining Room.  Much better, thanks Ken and Carnival.  I really didn’t get an opportunity to eat at all the many venues this trip, but I did get to most of my favorites.  Very pleased with food quality as were all the guests that I spoke to during the week.  I purchased the ‘Cheers’ program ($49.95 + 15% per day), but discovered that it can be purchased on 2nd day...I would do that if I get it again. 

I had cabin 10115 a category 8S Spa Balcony on deck 10.  It is decorated in the new Caribbean lighter colors that began with the Carnival Breeze roll out.  Very nice and this is only one of two ships as of now that has the new colors. My cabin steward, Alexander, did a very good job.  The cabin is the usual layout with sliding glass door at balcony, full couch, three closets (a bit smaller), nice table, bed stands with lamps (mentioned as these are going away in some new categories), push button safe, mini refrigerator, and stool at dresser/desk.  It does have the premium spa items such as nicer branded bath towels, Serenity beach/deck towels, nicer Serenity plush robes, and spa toiletries.  Only negative was that the set-back deck 11 balconies overlooked most of the balcony, so no privacy.  A cabin further forward would eliminate that situation.  I did enjoy the Spa location more than I thought I would usually be staying far aft on cruises.

Cruise Highlights
Jumping off a waterfall in Jamaica.
Alchemy Bar
Omelette Station & Mongolian Grill.
Lobby Bar

Special thanks to John Jenkins of Arkansas for some great Photos

Another Fantastic FUN Cruise!!