Talk about a lifestyle lift. Carnival’s former cruise ship, Destiny, went in for a $155 million makeover and emerged the newly christened Sunshine, replete with the three-deck-high Serenity adults-only retreat – a Carnival first – and teeming with nooks, niches and crannies that comfortably disperse its 3,006 passengers. Sounds like a veritable throng – and it is, but the Carnival Sunshine doesn’t feel crowded, and that has everything to do with the re-imagined space.
Following a nip and tuck that essentially called for gutting and rebuilding the entire ship, Carnival Sunshine debuted in May in Europe, stepping out on nine and 12-day Mediterranean cruises visiting cities in France, Italy and Croatia through October. Here are several of those enhancements – Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades in Carnival parlance – that score a perfect ten.
Carnival Sunshine’s new and improved culinary landscape is all about niche dining, including these three specialty restaurants.
Book a candlelit table for two in Fahrenheit 555, a classic American steakhouse, for a quiet repast that meanders from artfully designed and presented appetizers like escargots bourguignon and ahi tuna tartare to mouthwatering entrees, including spice-rubbed prime rib-eye steak and surf and turf, to desserts like the beast-size portion of creamy-delicious cheesecake – so big that only 10 percent of the diners who order it actually polish it off.
The fun begins when the server rolls out a trolley showcasing the steak selections for your perusal and continues right through the last sip of coffee or cordial. It’s delicious food and impeccable service, an experience worth every single penny of the $35 per person up-charge.
Ji Ji Asian Kitchen is a culinary adventure through the countries of the Far East, from Mongolia to Vietnam to Indonesia. The slow-braised pork belly with caramel chili sauce with black vinegar, Pomelo citrus fruit, Chinese chives with gorgonzola and spiced purple onions – sublime. The Singapore chili shrimp is sweet, spicy and garlicky-delicious. The rose Crème Brulee, delicately fragrant with ginger, will have you licking your spoon and wishing for more.
Restaurant decor is Asian-inspired, from the Chinese symbol for luck that is part of the table setting to the earthy color palette. The up-charge is $12 per person and the meal is one of the most memorable you’ll experience on Carnival Sunshine.
Ji Ji Asian Kitchen sits on one side of the Cuba-inspired Havana Bar; on the other side is cozy Cucina del Capitano. Antipasti, fried risotto balls, linguine and meatballs, spaghetti carbonara; it’s classic Italian comfort food served family-style and enjoyed in a setting that feels like your Nonna’s dining room – if your grandma is Italian and her home moved along at a lazy 18 knots. The up-charge is also $12 per person.
There are plenty of nooks aboard Carnival Sunshine to find music to sing, snap, tap or dance to without having to elbow your way through the masses.
A real charmer is the Piano Bar where you can sing along with Seth the piano man as he leads a small but enthusiastic crowd in lounge favorites like “Hotel California” and “Tiny Dancer.” The Piano Bar is intimate but lively, the piano man engaging and funny. Special requests encouraged.
Other singers entertain in the nine-deck-high atrium, the laid-back Redfrog Pub and its next-door-neighbor, Ocean Plaza, where things tend toward groovy with hits straight from the Woodstock and disco eras.
Those in search of quietude can retreat to Serenity, adults-only country for lazing, reading or sipping something frothy without little ones underfoot. The favored pastime: cocooning in a cushy sun lounger while drifting beneath a cloud-strewn sky.
Another sanctuary is the Cloud 9 Spa where you can step into a tropical shower or stretch out on a thermal lounger. Try basking in the warmth of the chair as the ship makes a sunset departure from port; it’s a perfect vacation moment.
A few decks down, the Library Bar is a hushed hideaway for thumbing through guidebooks, playing chess or board games or sipping before- or after-dinner drinks, like a Scarlet Letter cocktail. You might also find a great read in a book a fellow passenger has finished and left on the open shelf.
Families can farm the kids out for fun with their peers at Camp Carnival (ages 2-11), Circle C (ages 12-14) and Club O2 (ages 15-17). A schedule of the week’s activities, geared to your kids’ ages, will be in your cabin on arrival but be forewarned: if you want to hang with your kids during activities hours, you’ll most likely have to pry or bribe them out of their respective clubs. Video games, scavenger hunts, karaoke, pizza and ice cream parties and more in spaced practically screaming “no parents allowed” – it’s pure kid heaven.
There’s also the WaterWorks waterpark; SportSquare with ropes course, basketball, mini-golf, ping pong, pool and more; and fun niches for kids big and small like the Warehouse video arcade, FunHub Internet Cafe and the irresistibly colorful candy store, Cherry on the Top.
Lagniappe – a little something extra
In November, not-so-little miss Sunshine repositions to New Orleans for a winter schedule of seven-day Caribbean voyages. She’ll call at Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; and Montego Bay, Jamaica, among other Caribbean ports.
No matter the itinerary, Carnival Sunshine is first and foremost a Fun Ship, so expect plenty of poolside entertainment, a hopping casino and lively shows, but also fun little extras: a coffee bar, made-to-order pizzas 24-hours a day, spiked floats, a Sports Bar where you can catch the game.
There’s something – actually, lots of somethings – for everyone aboard Carnival Sunshine. There’s also space for everyone and for everyone, a space – and one that doesn’t feel crowded.
If You Go
The Carnival Sunshine, in the Mediterranean through October, will sail on a 16-day trans-Atlantic crossing from Barcelona to New Orleans, Nov. 1-17, followed by a winter schedule of seven-day cruises from the Big Easy through April 2014. The ship will then reposition from New Orleans to Port Canaveral, Fla., in April 2014, for year-round five- to eight-day Caribbean cruises from that port.
Among the ship’s many culinary offerings – including the main dining room, Lido Marketplace, poolside burgers and burritos, a Tasting Bar, room service and more – are the restaurants, Fahrenheit 555, Ji Ji Asian Kitchen and Cucina del Capitano, that carry an up-charge. They are well worth it for the unique experience they offer and any sailing should include reservations at one or all of these restaurants. Note: There is no charge during lunch at Ji Ji’s (custom-made noodle dishes) or Cucina del Capitano’s (pasta bar).
Tip: The cabins in the forward wing on Deck 6 of Carnival Sunshine are located directly above Liquid Lounge, where the DJ spins hits most nights of the cruise until the wees – and the sound is quite noticeable. Carnival is aware of the noise issue and is looking into ways to rectify the situation. Light sleepers will want to avoid these cabins until the situation is resolved.
Information: www.Carnival.com, 800-CARNIVAL.