This was a four day cruise from New York City calling at St. John, New Brunswick.
It was something of a first. The ship had sailed from New York before but never as Carnival Sunshine. Her earlier career as Carnival Cruise Lines' New York ship had been during her previous incarnation as Carnival Destiny. Now her itineraries may be the same but the ship is certainly different.
When Carnival Destiny entered service in 1996, she caused a sensation. At just over 100,000 gross tons, she was the largest cruise ship in the world. Furthermore, her interior was a bizarre fantasy world designed to take her passengers out of the everyday world and transport them to a vacation wonderland.
In 2013, Carnival made a massive investment in the aging Destiny sending the ship into drydock for nearly 50 days. The ship that emerged from the refit was so different than Carnival Destiny that the line decided to give her a new name, Carnival Sunshine.
The transformation was much more than a name change. In the public areas, the layout was changed and new venues added. Similarly, the open decks saw a massive change with the forward section becoming an adults-only retreat while the aft section became a water park and sports zone. New cabins were added and the existing cabins were refurbished. Throughout the ship the décor was changed to become more relaxed and contemporary.
As a result of these changes, Carnival Sunshine bears more of a resemblance to Carnival's newer ships such as Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze than she does to Carnival Destiny. Although not as large as those ships, Carnival Sunshine is equipped with most of the features found on those ships. She is once again a cutting-edge Carnival ship.
Of course, even a large investment does not guarantee that a ship will deliver a good cruise experience. In addition to the hardware, a cruise experience involves intangibles such as the way the ship is managed and the attitude of the crew. Fortunately, Captain Rosario Arena, his officers and crew recognize their responsibility and strive to make Carnival Sunshine deliver on its potential. Consequently, the cruise exceeded my expectations.
Back when Carnival Destiny entered service, dining on cruise ships was usually a choice of the main dining room or the buffet. More avant garde ships might also offer one specialty restaurant.
Carnival Sunshine has a wide array of dining options. Furthermore, you not only have multiple choices regarding location but of the types of food.
The ship has always had two main dining rooms. During the transformation, one of the dining rooms was reduced from two levels to one. However, because of the number of other venues as well as the availability of a flexible dining option in the main dining rooms, the restaurants are not over crowded. (As on all ships, there is considerable demand at peak times but that is a function of certain times being more popular than other times).
I had two dinners, a brunch and a breakfast in the Sunrise Restaurant. I was pleased by the variety and quality of the food each time. The service was professional both at my assigned table and at the tables I sat at during open seating.
Fahrenheit 555 is Carnival Sunshine's steakhouse. I have always liked the steakhouses on the Carnival ships. However, the Fahrenheit 555 takes it to the next level and the experience is competitive with the steakhouses on any of the major cruise lines. The quality of the food is first rate. I also like the more restrained décor on Carnival Sunshine. It is relaxed and contemporary but still sophisticated.
The captains of the Carnival ships have traditionally been from Italy. Therefore, when Carnival decided to add Italian specialty restaurants to its ships, it named them Cucina del Capitano (Kitchen of the Captain). Building on this idea, the décor of this venue on Carnival Sunshine includes photos of past captains and their families. There is even a captain's jacket hanging in one corner as if the captain had just left for a moment.
This restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast, it is an omelet station supporting the Lido buffet, which is just forward. For lunch, it is a pasta restaurant. You fill out a form to place your order and an electronic pager signals you when it is ready. I thought the pasta was tasty but was a little disappointed by the lasagna, which had a single piece of beef rather than ground beef. Both breakfast and lunch are complimentary.
There is a $15 cover charge for dinner but it is worth it. Everything I had was quite good ranging from the eggplant parmigiana appetizer to the grilled shrimp main course and spaghetti side. The service was quite good as well.
The Cucina del Capitano theme continues In the Lido Marketplace at the ship's pizzeria. Guests can order a small individual pizza that is made for you or order a slice of an existing pizza. The pizza's are thin crust in the European style. It is a good pizza but not on the same level as the pizzas created by Chef Alfredo Marzi for Princess Cruises.
Second to none of the other cruise lines are the burgers from Guy's Burger Joint. You can either order one of the burgers designed by Chef Guy Fieri or order a plain burger and then embellish it with l the various toppings and sauces laid out on the nearby counter. It is very popular but the line moves fast. By the way, it is complimentary.
There simply was not enough time on this cruise to try all of the dining options Carnival Sunshine has to offer. I would have liked to have ordered a tailor-made burrito from the Blue Iguana Cantina, which I have enjoyed on other Carnival ships. I was also intrigued by Jiji's Asian Kitchen, an Asian fusion specialty restaurant.
During the transformation, the theater was converted into the Liquid Lounge. Around the sides there is fixed seating while in the center area the seats can be removed so the room can become a nightclub.
The Liquid Lounge is home to the ship's production company. Unlike more traditional ships, each of the performers is both a singer and a dancer. In general, I think it is better to have a dedicated set of singers and a dedicated set of dancers because it is hard to be good at both. However, this cast handled both roles quite professionally.
There were two production shows. “Studio VIP” was inspired by the New York nightclub scene of the 1970s. “Epic Rock” features rock anthems of the 70s and 80s.
Instead of traditional scenery, the Liquid Lounge has giant screens which can be moved remotely. These combined with lasers and dramatic lighting made the shows visually powerful.
There were also comedy performances each night in the Limelight Lounge featuring comedians Azeem and Lowell Sanders. The two comedians alternated nights and did both a family-friendly show and an adult show. Both were very good and attracted standing room audiences. In fact, they were so good that I attended both the family and adult shows of both performers.
Daytime activities were standard cruise ship fare - - trivias, contests, bingo, shopping talks etc. There was a short talk about the port of call but this went little beyond what was in the shore excursion brochure.
I went for economy rather than luxury on this cruise, selecting an inside cabin. It seemed larger than most inside cabins I have known. The furniture was functional and included more than adequate storage space.
The room was very clean. My room steward was quite dedicated and clearly took his work seriously. At the same time, he was always friendly.
My only complaint about the room had to do with the bathroom. Although the equipment was new, the arrangement reminded me of the rather impractical space-saving set-ups that were not uncommon on ships built in the 1990s.
The only port of call on this brief cruise was St. John, New Brunswick. A small city on the Bay of Fundy, St. John has grown astonishingly as a cruise port. The first time I visited there in the 1990s on Queen Elizabeth 2, we docked at the container port across the river from the main part of town. Now, St. John has two modern cruise terminals in the heart of the city.
At the same time, the city has worked to develop its tourist attractions. It does not have the attractions of a world capital but it is clean and walkable (although hilly). There are also some photogenic places (rugged coastline, fishing harbors, pleasant countryside and unspoiled forests) in the area outside of the city.
The tides in the Bay of Fundy shift dramatically during the course of a day. This causes some issues for cruise ships docking in St. John and Carnival Sunshine was slightly delayed in berthing. However, an announcement was made that the ship's departure time would be rolled back an hour so as to give the passengers more time in port.
For most of the day, the weather was sunny. It was cooler than in New York, which is typical.
The weather on the sea days was similar - - periods of sunshine and of fog. The seas were calm throughout the cruise.
Carnival Sunshine was sailing at full capacity during this cruise. It was a diverse group. Most were from the greater New York area but there were also people from as far away as Canada and Florida. There were quite a few multi-generational families but also quite a few young couples. Many passengers were first time cruisers but there were also enough members of the upper tiers of Carnival's loyalty program to fill the Limelight Lounge. The majority of the passengers were below age 50.
Cruise ship review - - Carnival Cruise Lines - - Carnival Sunshine - - Canada