Carnival Cruise Lines Carnival Sunshine Review
Following a $155 million overhaul, Carnival Sunshine is marketed as a “new” ship, with a new name. But our inaugural sailing revealed a ship that was not ready for guests.
Cloud 9 Spa and Gym
Carnival Sunshine’s revamped spa is a bright, if spare facility, managed for Carnival by Steiner Leisure, a company that oversees spas for the majority of cruise lines. We were surprised that the spa is actually a little smaller than Destiny’s original facility on this deck (the salon has been moved inside and a half-dozen guest cabins fill the former space). There’s no Thalassotherapy pool on Sunshine, a standard feature on many Carnival ships, but there is a Thermal Suite that has heated ceramic day beds in a quiet room facing the ocean. Access to the Thermal Suite is $20 per day, per person ($99 for a seven-day pass), but by staying in a spa cabin a pass was included in our cruise fare. We used it on a couple occasions but, quite honestly, the shared facility didn’t seem as inviting as the ports we visited. But we’d think this was a terrific place to camp out on a sea day with unpleasant weather. There was also a “mud lounge” experience on offer, priced $95 per couple.
Prices for treatments were on par with or slightly higher than we find at mid-priced beach resorts. Fifty-minute facials ranged $119 to $169 and massages started at $119 for the 50-minute Swedish or Reflexology massage; 75-minute Thai herbal poultice or aroma stone therapy massages were $195; a 50-minute couple’s Swedish massage was priced $269. Port day discounts shaved about 10 percent off the pricing; there were also discounts for multiple treatments. Other procedures available included teeth whitening, acupuncture, Ionithermie, waxing and men’s grooming. The men’s and women’s changing areas had private sauna and steam rooms, open to those not signing up for a treatment.
We indulged in a Swedish massage during our cruise, and found the treatment well done and quite relaxing. The ceiling of our therapy room was missing some of the panels, but otherwise all went off without a hitch. Afterwards there was a soft sell for the pricey Elemis products used during our treatment—we passed. A service charge (gratuity) was not automatically added to the bill.
Carnival Sunshine has a large gym, a space that received a facelift and new equipment but was otherwise unchanged during the transformation from Destiny. We found latest-generation LifeCycle cardio equipment—bikes, treadmills and elliptical—and we never experienced a line for any of the machines, most of which faced the forward ocean view. A small room off to the side was set up for fitness classes, which included total body conditioning, and stretching sessions—at no charge—plus yoga and pilates ($12 each), and spinning ($30 for three sessions).
Sunshine has some good pool and whirlpool space, but on both fronts we feel the number of options is hardly sufficient for a ship of this size. It was hard to know for sure on our cruise: The main Beach Pool on Deck 9 was roped off and empty, due to unexplained issues (resolved after our cruise concluded). The Beach Pool is the only one available to kids (depth: 4 feet, 6 inches), and we expect the area can be quite crowded, especially on sea days. There were two whirlpool tubs overlooking the pool, and these were filled with people most sunny days. The main pool is flanked by the Blue Iguana and Red Frog bars, and the surrounding lounger space is laid out in Carnival’s typical amphitheater design.
A second pool was located on Deck 11, within the Serenity Adult Retreat. Though more of a round plunge pool than anything designed for swimming, the Serenity Pool was an appealing space, with a waterfall tumbling two decks into the tub. Kids aren’t allowed here, and there’s no music piped in, though if something’s going on around the Beach Pool just below, you’re guaranteed to hear it. The loungers and umbrellas were a popular hangout on our cruise. The ship’s third whirlpool is located two decks above the Serenity Pool, and it’s a great perch for observing much of what’s transpiring on the top decks of the ship; it was also usually filled with flesh.
The WaterWorks area—featuring towering water slides—is one of the crowning features of the renewed ship. Unfortunately, it was closed off until the 11th day of our cruise, so we didn’t get to experience the slides. Looming above Deck 10, aft, Waterworks features snazzy-looking speed slides, including the 334-foot-long Twister Slide, which Carnival says is the longest in the fleet. Signs advised that a 42-inch height requirement was in effect. There were a number of other water features aimed at kids, including a 150-gallon bucket shower.
Also running through this area is SportsSquare, featuring a ropes challenge course, mini-golf, a jogging track and basketball court. All of these features were unavailable during our cruise. The Warehouse was an arcade game area located on Deck 5.
Deck space on Carnival Sunshine is creatively used, though perhaps a bit tight for the number of passengers. The ship’s defining feature may be the Serenity Adult Retreat, spread across three forward decks and with a waterfall spilling into a circular pool. Visually, Serenity is a great picture. But we have one complaint to share: In contrast to the area’s name, it’s short on quiet space. Whatever’s on the sound system at the main pool is audible, sometimes blasted to the midship section of Serenity—this includes the Hairy Chest Contest, the Rum and Tequila Challenge, etc. Even worse, the forward section of Serenity’s top deck is close to noisy exhaust vents that roar 24 hours a day.
Child-free Serenity should be one of quieter areas of what is otherwise a fairly noisy ship—it’s not. Still, we usually found sufficient loungers amid the fake palms and bright yellow umbrellas, making this sun deck easily the finest in the Carnival fleet. Best of all, there’s no up-charge to utilize this prime real estate or its many cabanas—features that Carnival’s competitors usually try to squeeze a few extra bucks from.
Other open-air space on Sunshine included Deck 10, where lots of loungers were lined up at midship, overlooking the Beach Pool. Less heralded were several decks worth of forward-facing hideouts below the bridge, starting from Deck 6 and accessed only from the interior hallways. These decks weren’t quite set up on the inaugural cruise, but they’re the quietest retreat the ship offers on a sunny sea day. Finally, Deck 3 represented the promenade deck, of sorts. There was no access to the forward or aft portions of this deck, so we couldn’t walk around the entirety of the ship, but they were another quieter part of the ship, and the loungers were rarely full.
Shows & Entertainment
There were several live entertainment venues around the ship, starting with the Liquid Lounge, a theatre that has been downsized from the original, three-level Palladium Lounge that occupied this space. The theater has been improved in some ways, by raising the bottom floor (which makes it a little more intimate), but there are still lots of obstructed sightlines and—frankly—we find this venue fairly unattractive. But the two shows we saw here were another matter, both utilizing Carnival’s high-tech virtual sets—massive LED screens—which allow a diverse array of effects to take place behind, and sometimes interacting with, the live performers. Although there are lots of seats to the sides of the stage, note that the virtual staging is best appreciated viewing the stage straight on. Each show ran about 30 minutes, and each earned three performances on our cruise.
Though interrupted with technical glitches during the third performance, “Epic Rock” was very entertaining. It’s a fist-pumping tribute to late 1970s and 1980s arena rock, with all the expected glam costumes and posing. Most of the singing was live, but the music was a canned backing track. It was great for boomers but not too loud for the mothers in tow (just enough volume to make them reach for their earplugs). Songs from Led Zeppelin, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen received an affectionate platform, with all the requisite glam costumes (BYO hair extensions). The second show we saw, “Studio VIP,” was a disco review featuring a roster of late 1970s hits, from Bee Gees to Donna Summer, Chic to Village People (just what the world needs, another opportunity to sing “YMCA”). While it didn’t hold together quite as well as the rock show (less ambitious staging), it was still entertaining, with a qualified crew of singers on stage.
On some nights, Liquid Lounge converts into a full-fledged disco, with a sound system providing major whoomp. Again, not the most attractive of spaces, but we averted our eyes and enjoyed the groove. Other shows that transpired in Liquid Lounge included a comedy-magic act, Bingo (daily) and trivia contests, and Carnival's new Hasbro game show.
Limelight Lounge is home to Sunshine’s comedy club, and there were four or five shows most nights of our cruise. Usually the first show was all-ages, with later shows designated as adults-only. The quality of comedians varied greatly, but with two new acts every three or four days, there was a lot to choose from.
Another spot for live shows was Ocean Plaza, a venue that was used for bands doing rock covers, as well as themed trivia games and karaoke.
While it lacks the goofy themed ambience of the casinos on most Carnival ships, the Sunshine Casino was still a bright and alluring place for gamers to congregate. Located midship on Deck 5, the casino had an abundance of slot machines, along with table games (roulette, craps, blackjack and various types of poker) and the facility was busy whenever we were at sea, with slot machines staying open till 4 a.m. nightly.
Gambling was allowed for guests 18 and older. Guests could charge up to $2000 to their room accounts. Smoking was permitted on the port side of the casino, but the starboard side wasn’t much less smoky—overall it was easily the most cigarette-plagued indoor area of the ship. The ship’s standard cocktail list was available at the casino bar.
The Sunshine lobby atrium has been re-imagined, on the surface at least—it’s one of the most colorful areas of the ship, the one bit of whimsy that former Carnival designer Joe Farcus might have presented. In addition to the lobby bar, this area is home to the guest service desk and the shore excursions desk. Glass elevators swoop through an airy minefield of shiny spheres.
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