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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.

November 18, 2013
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Carnival Sunshine has a broader array of dining options than almost any other ship in the Carnival fleet. In addition to the main dining rooms and the buffet, where we took most of our meals, there is a burger joint, a Mexican option, a pizza station, plus three specialty restaurants requiring an add-on fee for dinner (two of them are open for lunch with no surcharge); we also found a spot for tapas-style light bites.

One of the unexpected strengths of Carnival Sunshine was the diverse choice of breakfast venues that went beyond the usual main dining room and buffet to encompass the Taste Bar and BlueIguana Cantina. On our cruise a Punchliners Comedy Brunch was held on sea days featuring 10-minute live comedy routines once an hour. We didn’t think much of the comedy—we found it “safe” to the point of neutered—and apparently neither did many other guests. A few months later Carnival altered course and, although the brunch menu remains, the comedy angle has gone the way of the dodo.

Sunshine is also home to a seven-course Chef’s Table dinner, availed once or twice each cruise (in a private room adjoining Fahrenheit 555) for $75, including wine. We didn’t sign up for the meal on Sunshine, but you can read about our Chef’s Table meal aboard Carnival Victory here.

Editor’s note: Following our cruise, an additional surcharge dining venue was added to Sunshine. Bonsai Sushi is located on Deck 4 near Fahrenheit 555 and Piano Bar 88. You can read a review of our experience at this restaurant aboard Carnival Breeze here.

Sunrise and Sunset Restaurants

There are two main dining rooms, the two-level Sunrise Restaurant on decks 3 and 4 aft and the Sunset Restaurant on deck 3 at midship. The two have somewhat different décor but share the same menu. On our cruise, breakfast was served at Sunrise only and neither venue was open for lunch. At dinnertime, Sunset was dedicated to assigned seating times only, at 6 and 8:15 p.m.; Sunrise had assigned seating on the upper level but open seating downstairs.

We found meals here to be generally satisfying, with a menu that will be familiar to Carnival regulars. The everyday dinner menu included such fare as broiled salmon, grilled flat iron steak, southern fried chicken and Carnival’s familiar Indian vegetarian option, which we’ve enjoyed on other ships. The rest of the menu changed daily, and among the starters we tried were heart of iceburg lettuce salad, a light sake-stewed carpaccio of beet with grapefruit and gorgonzola, an odd salad of pear and mozzarella, and crepes filled with spinach and ricotta. Among the entrées we tried were a pan seared tilapia, an overcooked pappardelle in an otherwise satisfying cream and mushroom sauce, and a blackened tilapia served against an overly-heavy tomato sauce with calamari—the jambalaya rice on the side was too salty for our taste.

Our favorite entrée was a broiled center cut pork chop with a Mexican molé sauce, sautéed red cabbage and apple, and mac-and-cheese—south-of-the-border meets Germany. On “elegant” evening (Carnival’s version of formal night) we enjoyed a serviceable, if petite lobster tail with a trio of juicy shrimps, beaker of butter, steamed and breaded broccoli and dollop of mashed potato. Other offerings on the elegant menu included prime rib, pork spare ribs, and spaghetti carbonara.

Our breakfasts here were okay if unexceptional. The menu covered the usual turf adequately—fresh fruits, cold packaged cereals, yogurt, bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese, eggs benedict, pancakes and Belgian waffles. Omelets were available with an egg substitute on request, along with sides of corned beef hash, ham, bacon, pork link sausage, chicken sausage, turkey bacon and hash browns. We tried the French toast and found the syrup way too sweet for our taste, while tasty hot oatmeal was delivered with ramekins of brown sugar, raisins and slivered almonds. On the mornings we ate here, the room was usually calm, though on one port day, service was slow and guests rushed through meals to make their shore excursions. The brunch menu (served on sea days) had a Mexican focus.

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Lido Marketplace

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, the Lido Marketplace is Sunshine’s main buffet option, and this high-traffic area is one of the key beneficiaries of Destiny’s reworking (which mirrored that of other older ships in the fleet). The traffic flow is much improved with food stations nicely broken up, and there is a greater variety of seating areas. (Destiny’s open-air, aft deck is now enclosed, providing the space for Cucina del Capitano and JiJi Asian Kitchen.) But this area is still quite busy at breakfast and lunch—it’s where a majority of guests seem to take those meals, and navigating the lines requires a bit of patience at peak hours. Yet we always found seating towards the rear, an area most guests seemed to overlook. We also liked the hand-washing machines located near the entrance, though they didn't get a lot of use.

At breakfast, we found fruit to be nicely displayed, but of inconsistent quality (melon bland, grapefruit tart, but bananas fine). Cereals, yogurt, pastries, eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, pork or chicken sausages, bacon, baked beans, French toast and pancakes were all on offer. It’s not a huge selection in main area, but many overlooked the aft section (where Cucina and JiJi are located) where we found omelet stations and a selection of cold cuts and cheeses, along with coffee stations and seating that was more open.

At lunch the selections included a hot and cold sandwich station, a salad bar that featured rotating prepared salads (quite tasty), and hot offerings that changed daily—typical on one day was a Provencale vegetable soup, lasagna, sake glazed salmon, and chicken schnitzel. The dinner selection was similar, and featured such items as cream of sundried tomato soup, fried shrimp, grilled flat iron steak, roast chicken, grilled tilapia with tomato and shallot confit, chicken a la Grecque, etc. The dessert spread was plentiful, though the fare was a bit hit-and-miss.

Drink stations offered free hot coffee and tea around the clock, along with water and lemonade or orange “juice cocktail.” Other drinks were available at the Havana Bar, aft. Sunshine also offers a nifty new Carnival feature: a self-pour beer tap. We had to swipe our key card, of course, adding a $4 charge to our account—but no automatic gratuity was added (an odd but welcome concept). Flavors on tap: Bud Lite and Carnival’s own Thirsty Frog Red.

Blue Iguana Cantina

This is Carnival’s spot for take-out Mexican fare, located next to the main pool. In addition to pumping out fresh tortillas, the cantina has a surprisingly robust salsa bar, with at least ten different fresh salsas, along with lime, cabbage, cilantro, watermelon and other Mexican essentials. Burritos and tacos were built to order—chipotle-rubbed chicken, ancho roast pork, fried fish, beans, corn, grilled onions could all be loaded into the tortillas for fast and tasty lunches. It was definitely a few nachos above Taco Bell fare, which tends to define the quality of Mexican cuisine for many cruise ships.

The cantina is also open for simple breakfasts. While the huevos rancheros were a little different from what we know, they’re a perky way to start the day. Breakfast burritos were packed with scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, ham and potatoes.

Guy’s Burger Joint

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri has invaded Carnival nation, spreading his vision of sloppy, ground chuck love on the high seas most everywhere the fleet’s newer (or newly revamped) ships sail. We had a better Guy’s burger on another ship—the one on Sunshine was a bit dry (shocking, considering the 80/20 blend used for the patties); the fries were heavy, swaddled in an overly salty spice rub. But we seemed to be in the minority on this—the fare was churned out to many happy customers till 6 p.m. daily.

Burgers can be ordered straight up, with bourbon and brown sugar BBQ sauce, chili, or with Guy’s own “donkey” sauce (don’t ask). Also on offer is the Pig Patty—a true ham-burger, made out of bacon. The calorie count was not listed. There’s a fixings bar, with traditional condiments along with sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, and bacon.

Fahrenheit 555

Carnival’s steakhouse is a feature we look forward to on most ships in the fleet, and Sunshine’s itineration, Fahrenheit 555, lived up to expectations. This sleek, dimly lighted room is a great showcase for fine meats that are properly prepared and served by a team of crack Eastern European waiters. The up-charge to dine here—$35—isn’t cheap, but if you’re going to splurge on a meal at some point during your trip, this is the place to do it. Our only complaint was that the room was a bit noisy; it wasn’t a busy night when we dined here, but one group of seven guests seemed to take over the space.

The meat selection ranges from the 9-ounce filet mignon to 18-ounce prime cowboy and prime rib-eye steaks; also available were rosemary-infused chicken, grilled fish “from the market,” Maine lobster ravioli, and broiled lobster tail (surf and turf was an option). Starters included escargots, grilled Portobello mushroom, shrimp cocktail, New England crab cake, lobster bisque, onion soup, and a classic Caesar salad.

Soon after we were seated, warm bread arrived with three dipping options, including olive oil and garlic, a tomato puree, and an interesting almond mixture. Our meal opened with an elegant amuse bouche—sun dried tomato and raw tuna topped with dollops of golden caviar. We then dived into our starter of ahi tuna tartare—a column of cubed yellow fin tuna, beautifully presented with micro greens and pearls of various liquids. We loved the carefully stacked salad of baby leaf spinach, plumped with fresh mushrooms and warm bacon and a topping of blue cheese crumbles.

For entrée we opted for the double-cut lamb chops and received a very generous collection of four ribs, perched upright in a skillet filled with scrumptious potatoes, with three additional chunks of meat on the side. This was a great entrée, and perfectly cooked to order. Side dishes (which seemed almost unnecessary) included creamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, Yukon gold potato mash with wasabi, and steamed broccoli.

The steakhouse has a full bar, with cocktails not available elsewhere, along with Sunshine’s full menu of wines (pours seemed a little more generous here than elsewhere on the ship). Fahrenheit 555 is open nightly, and those who dine here on the first night of the cruise are traditionally gifted with a complimentary bottle of wine.

Cucina Del Capitano

This cheery Italian restaurant is a venerable institution for most ships in Carnival’s fleet, and the venue gets a good location on Sunshine, behind the Lido buffet. We’ve found both good and disappointing dishes on the Cucina del Capitano menu, but it’s a meal we look forward to, and we find the add-on fee of $12 to be not unreasonable.

Soon after being seated we were greeted by waiter who sang a quick a cappella Italian song, a personal touch that starts the evening off on the right foot (later, a pop song is performed by five waiters). Otherwise the sound system bubbles gently with background music from Sade to Rufus Wainwright. The meal starts simply with toasted bread and ricotta cheese, with roasted garlic and plump tomatoes on the side.

The menu has a little something for everyone, and portions are huge (sharing is definitely encouraged). Starters include a big, varied antipasti plate, arancini (fried risotto balls over tomato sauce), eggplant parmigiana, minestrone soup, and arugula salad. We opted for the disappointing Caesar salad and very tasty fried calamari, served with marinara sauce for dipping, a charred lime wedge and dusted with sea salt—they were delicious.

Among the main courses are a bavette alla scoglio (pasta with seafood in a white wine sauce), linguini with meatballs, chicken parmigiana, Piedmont-style braised short ribs, New York sirloin, grilled shrimp and grilled salmon. We opted for spaghetti carbonara, a large portion quite rich with cream and bacon. It was far too much for one person to consume—two could easily share this as a satisfying entrée, or a table of four could make it an appetizer. Side dishes are offered, and we found the broccoli with peperonata to be serviceable. Desserts included tiramisu, lemon sorbet, cannoli and an apple tart, with a selection of Italian after-dinner liqueurs available.

Lunch is also served at Cucina del Capitano, and there’s no add-on fee. The menu is much more limited—a selection of three types of pasta and four sauces, though these could be supplemented to order with items such as grilled chicken, garlic shrimp, eggplant, etc. There was also a meat lasagna available, along with Caesar salad. It’s fine as a change of pace, but the dinner experience is definitely better.

Ji Ji Asian Kitchen

This is a new Asian restaurant concept for Carnival, and it’s a winner, along the lines of the PF Chang’s chain, but better. There’s a $12 surcharge to dine at JiJi, and we felt the add-on was well worth it. The food and presentations were right on, with a nice variety of sweet, spicy and savory from different regions of Asia—from Indonesia to China. One heads-up: We heard a couple guests complain of the food being too spicy; for our cruise the menu didn’t indicate temperature levels of dishes, and waiters didn’t provide guidance. We found everything to be reasonable for our tolerance level, but a few dishes were sizzling.

While perusing the menu and enjoying the green tea martini (vodka with green tea and lemongrass syrup), we were offered Indonesian tapioca crisps with various sambal dipping sauces. Being a brand new menu, we took cues from our waitress, starting with the chicken and cilantro root soup, a satisfying broth stocked with lots of corn and oyster mushrooms; jade shrimp dumplings were flush with the lightly cooked crustaceons. Other starters included slow braised pork belly, pot stickers, Nanjing style duck, chicken spring rolls, and tamarind and shrimp soup.

Entrées included peppered beef, slow-braised wagyu bef short ribs, Singapore style chili shrimp, sweet and sour fragrant shrimp, and kung pao chicken. We ordered Chairman Mao’s master stock pig, which was stir fry of stewed pork with scallions, spinach and pea shoots, topped with fresh spinach—just terrific. Various sides of noodles, rice and veggies could be ordered, and we enjoyed the blistered beans spiked with minced pork. The dessert list was short but sweet: The fried wonton, served in a bowl with tapioca pearls and coconut milk was a fine conclusion to the meal.

Mongolian BBQ

An adjunct to Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, this spot was open each day for a no-fee lunch, and we found the food to be delicious, with an emphasis on fresh and flavorful, stirred to life in a wok. Three types of flesh were available—pork, chicken and calamari, but the nice spread of vegetables available meant a tasty non-meat meal could be easily assembled. Three sauces were offered: black bean, Thai barbecue and a sizzling green Szechwan.

Pizzeria Del Capitano

Also a spinoff, from Cucina del Capitano, this pizza station delivered quality single-serving pies, starting from breakfast (topped with prosciutto, an egg and fresh arugula). At lunch the choices ranged from Margharita and pepperoni to funghi (mushrooms) and quattro formaggi (four cheese).

The Taste Bar

A newish concept for Carnival, the Taste Bar was a place where one could sample one or two of the items being served at the ship’s various restaurants. Located next to Ocean Plaza, these are tapas-style treats each evening designed to promote the ship’s diverse range of menus—Nonna’s meatballs and bruchetta with ricotta from Cucina del Capitano one night, tastes from Blue Iguana Cantina the next.

The Taste Bar was also open with a limited menu at breakfast and lunch each day, a fact that was oddly overlooked by the ship’s newsletter. In the morning this was a great place to pull together breakfast—cold cuts and cheese, fruit, boxed cereals, hot oatmeal, pastries and breads, and scrambled eggs. During the lunch hour we found such fare as tomato soup, baby shrimp sofrito pilaf, fried chicken, beef stew, as well as a decent salad bar. Since many passengers didn’t know about it, this was a great way to dodge the crowd at the Lido Marketplace (the ship’s busiest area at breakfast and lunch).

In-Room Dining

There were two menus for room service aboard Carnival Sunshine. Breakfast was outlined on a door tag that could be hung outside our cabin before 5 a.m.; selections were limited to continental breakfast: packaged cereals, breads and pastries, smoked salmon, yogurt, and plates of citrus, melon or banana. There was no lunch menu provided in our room, but a call to the kitchen gave us a rundown of the hot and cold sandwiches, salads and desserts available.

We asked for our continental breakfast to be delivered between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m.—the knock on the door came promptly at 6:18 a.m. The only hot item was the coffee, and it was delivered hot, though the flavor was watery. We ordered corn flakes and a banana, which were delivered with milk; we also requested a plate of pastries, and three items came with the order.

We called to order lunch one afternoon, but no time estimate for delivery was provided. The lunch arrived 19 minutes later. We ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, which consisted of four slices of American cheese, barely melted, tucked into white bread. It was perfunctory, at best, served with a pickle slice and a heap of potato chips. To drink we requested a beer, a 17-oz can of Heineken that was delivered in a tub of ice. In addition to juice drinks, coffee, tea and milk, one could order from the regular bar menu, including soft drinks, or dive into the cabin’s minibar.

For both deliveries the tray was simply adorned with linen, while the silverware was wrapped in a linen napkin. The only place to eat in our interior cabin was the small desk; a meal for two would require someone to sit on the bed.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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