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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 an abundance of watering holes to choose from. Not counting the bars attached to dining venues, there were 11 drinking venues spread throughout the ship, several of which represent brand new concepts for Carnival. Bar service could also be ordered at the pool areas and inside the theater. A 15-percent service charge was added to all drink orders. The minimum age for drinking was 21.

The standard drink list included just about any libation we could think of—frozen drinks such as margaritas and piña coladas, along with classics including the mojito, mai tai, Long Island ice tea and cosmopolitan; all were priced $8.75. Cordials and liqueurs such as Sambuca, Cointreau and Baileys Irish Cream and straight shots of Skyy vodka, Bacardi rum, Bombay Sapphire gin and other liquors ranged $4.95-$7.50. Premium liquors such as Johnnie Walker Black, Ketel One vodka and Patron silver tequila were priced $7.50-$9.95.

Most bars had unique drinks, particularly Piano 88 and Alchemy Bar, and each of the restaurant menus had one or more signature drinks, also only available at that spot.

The wine list for the main dining rooms totaled about 90 offerings, with a good selection from California, in particular, with wineries of Italy, France, Chile, Argentina and Australia also represented; most bottles were priced under $40, and about 30 were available by the glass, ranging $6.50 to $12. Wine packages of five bottles were available at a slight discount.

The beer list included the major American brands in 16-ounce bottles for $5.75. Imports and specialty beers were $4.95 and included Bass Ale, Corona, Stella Artois, Blue Moon and Pilsner Urquell, and 16-ounce pours of Boddingtons, Grolsch and Guinness for $5.95. EA Sports had the broadest selection of beers—about 30—including Red Stripe, Presidente, and Sierra Nevada, plus four on tap that could be ordered by the pitcher. There was also Carnival’s own brew, Thirsty Frog Red, a heavily malted beer with a sweet finish, available for $5.50 a pint at the Sunshine Lobby Bar and a couple other locations.

Carnival Sunshine offers the Cheers Beverage Program, priced $49.95 per day, per guest, plus 15 percent gratuity, providing “unlimited” alcoholic and other beverages (the program was priced $42.95 per day on our cruise, a price applicable only for cruises in Europe). Restrictions: All adults in the cabin must buy into the program, it must be purchased for the entire cruise on the first or second day, and there’s a limit of 15 alcoholic drinks served per 24 hours. Those swilling down five or more mixed drinks daily will do better buying the program. For those drinking mostly beer or cheaper wines, or for those spending a lot of time in ports, the package might not work out to a good deal.

Bottomless Bubbles, an unlimited soda package, was also available. The price was $6 per day, or $4.50 for kids (age 17 and under). The package does not apply to room service deliveries and a 15 percent service charge was applied. Soft drinks included Coke products (including Sprite, Pibb Xtra and orange soda); these were all $1.95, as was iced tea. Powerade was $2.95 and Red Bull was $4.75. Bottled waters included assorted vitamin waters, Perrier and San Pellegrino. Non-alcoholic Buckler beer was $3.95.

Java Blue and Shake Spot

Located on Deck 5 midship, along one of the ship’s primary thoroughfares, Sunshine’s coffee shop is a bright, airy spot for fee-added, espresso-fueled coffees, spiked coffee drinks, milkshakes and plus-sized cakes by the slice. Since the ship’s standard coffee is not the greatest, we retreated here on a couple occasions when diving into a real Italian coffee joint was not possible. Java Blue was open from 6 or 7 a.m. till midnight daily—making it perfect for late-night caffeine or dessert cravings.

The menu features espresso, cappuccino, mochachino, caffé latte, chai tea latte and hot chocolate (regular $2.95, or “fun size” $3.50). All could be made with skim or soy milk; shots of assorted syrups and liqueurs were available. Drip and iced coffee was available, and spiked coffee drinks were $5.75. Hand-scooped milkshakes and floats were $3.95, or $7.75 for spiked ice cream concoctions.

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Sunshine Lobby Bar

The lobby bar was the epicenter of the ship, with a multi-deck atrium soaring above—giant mirror balls climbed into the rafters from here. The standard cocktail list was available, and the spot was rarely crowded (at least, once embarkation hassles had mostly been resolved at the adjacent front desk). Live music was served up at a couple points in the afternoon and evening.

Piano 88

It just wouldn’t be a Carnival cruise without a raucous piano bar, and Piano 88 represents the newest in the fleet, wearing the look of a trendy blues club on its lapel. The piano man hit the ivory starting at 9 p.m. each night.

EA Sports

The sports bar on Carnival Sunshine is appropriately lined with TVs monitoring the game of the day. There’s a broader selection of beers available here, including four on tap—Bud Lite, Dos Equis, Presidente, and Thirsty Frog Red. These were available by the pint, 60-ounce pitcher, or 101-ounce tube. A sports trivia challenge was held here each evening.

Alchemy Bar

Though awkwardly located along a major thoroughfare on Deck 5 aft, we liked visiting the “pharmacists” at Alchemy, where bartenders prescribed tasty twists on classic elixirs for whatever ailed. The Curative Cosmopolitan is Absolute Citron doused with peach schnapps and cranberry juice; a lemon rind is torched with a lighter and spritzed onto the glass, illuminating the flavors beautifully. At $9 a pop, the drinks are pricey, but we tipped back a couple of their recommendations and found them to be great alternatives.

Red Frog Pub

Think “pub” reimagined by Jimmy Buffet and you’ll have an idea of the scene at Red Frog, located on Deck 5 aft. Though a bit antiseptic for our taste (it’s decidedly clean and air conditioned), it has the dart and board games we count on at a pub, as well as Caribbean bartenders who kept the vibe sunny amid the faux palm trees.

In addition to a few specialty rums, there was a small selection of beers on tap, available by the pitcher or 101-ounce tube, as well as aboard sampler paddle. A small roster of Caribbean beers, including Banks (Barbados), Carib (Trinidad), Presidente (Dominican Republic) and Red Stripe (Jamaica) was available. The cocktail list includes Caribbean-themed drinks—a couple colored with Blue Curacao liqueur—along with variations on the mojito. But our eyes went straight to the drinks featuring Ting, a made-in-Jamaica grapefruit soda that’s offered here with rum, vodka or gin—mmmm. We found live music here nightly—usually a crooner with a guitar.

Red Frog Rum Bar

Not to be confused with the Red Frog Pub located inside the ship, the rum bar was next to the Beach Pool on Deck 9, midship. The cruise ship version of a Caribbean beach shack, there are intriguing rums to try (Zacapa from Guatemala, Gosling’s Black Seal from Bermuda), as well as a selection of rum-based drinks, frozen and on-the-rocks. Spiked lemonade and margaritas were available in pitchers. Draft and Caribbean bottled beers were also offered.

Blue Iguana Tequila Bar

Mirroring (and immediately opposite) the Red Frog Rum Bar, this Mexican-themed outpost also served the Beach Pool sun decks. Tequila is the primary fuel, with various fruity concoctions assembled—we tried one and found it cloyingly sweet. Margaritas and spiked lemonade were also available by the pitcher.

Havana Bar

Located where Carnival’s Triumph’s aft pool was originally perched, the Havana Bar is one of the new features introduced by Sunshine, and it’s a winner. By day, this serves as seating for the adjacent Lido Marketplace (overlooked by many, it’s where we discovered unoccupied tables more often than not). But late night the Havana Bar became a seductive nightclub with excellent live salsa music and dancing.

In the morning, Havana Bar served Cuban style coffees for a surcharge as well as traditional espresso-style coffees; there was also a juice machine offering fresh squeezed orange juice for $4.95.

The Library Bar

Though Carnival Sunshine has just a small library of books and board games, the room is actually an inviting and quiet space just off the main lobby. There’s a short list of wine (some of them supplied by enomatic wine dispensers that can be operated with a swipe of one’s key card), along with a decent selection of Scotch, whiskey and cognac. The bar was staffed in the evening, though on a sea day there was a bartender only at midday.

Serenity Bar

Located on Deck 14, the uppermost level of Carnival Sunshine, this bar had the ship’s standard array of drinks for those using the Serenity Adult Retreat.

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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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