The Carnival Sunshine at anchor off the coast of Grand Cayman island
The ship used to be known as the Carnival Destiny
until it was given a $155 million renovation in 2013
and re-named the Carnival Sunshine.
The most striking feature of the $155 million renovation...
a waterfall cascades in to a small swimming pool.
The lido deck is bathed in purple light while people enjoy the "Seaside Theatre"
We sailed the week before Christmas, so there were lots of holiday decorations
Carnival ships are known for a very loud style of interior design,
although the newest ones have been toned down quite a bit.
The atrium of the Carnival Sunshine has a bit of that wild style to it.
This picture of the steakhouse is a good example of the stylish interior design of most of the ship's interior spaces...
We woke up one morning to discover that the Lido deck had been taken
over by towel animals!
On just about every cruise, there are beautiful sunrise and sunsets
In addition to still pictures, I also have a lot of videos from our
Here's a time-lapse video I made of our departure from the Port Of New Orleans.
To start the video playing, click on the triangle...
Notice the Norwegian Jewel departing at about :04 in to the video.
You get a good view of downtown New Orleans at :50
Some interesting ship traffic at 1:08
Here's a video that gives you a little taste of a "fun day at
Remember, to start the video playing, click on the triangle
Before we get any further in to this, I should probably introduce myself...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I cruise with my wife, Kellyn.
(Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.)
We're from Grover Beach, California...
a little town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
For this cruise, we also travelled with our 28-year-old son, Jeff:
Jeff and his favorite member of the Carnival Sunshine bar staff, Ioana, from the Alchemy bar
The Captain's Suite, cabin 9115
We've been quite fortunate to have gone on many Carnival cruises before. This was or 20th! We don't normally splurge on a top-of-the-line cabin... but the stock market was very good to us in 2013, so this time we did!
I figured it would be fun to go all-out and act like big spenders for one cruise. (And one cruise only!) So, we booked the most expensive cabin on the whole ship. It's called the Captain's Suite.
The Captain's Suite sits at the very front of the ship, directly above the bridge, and from the big picture windows in the living room you have an amazing view of everything in front of the ship.
To help you to appreciate the location of the Captain's Suite, I've added a little arrow to this next picture to point you to it.
One of the best features of the Captain's Suite is the gigantic balcony that comes with it...
This part of the balcony is open to the air, so you can enjoy the warm Caribbean weather. It hangs over the side of the ship, which gives you some amazing views down the entire length of the ship. Here's a picture I snapped from our balcony as we lay at anchor off Grand Cayman, with the Island Princess and Norwegian Jewel by our side.
What an amazing view from our balcony, eh?!? To better appreciate our vantage point from the balcony, here's a picture of the ship with an arrow added to point to our balcony. You can see how it sticks out over the side of the ship, giving us a tremendous view to the aft.
When a cruise ship is sailing at full speed, it can get a bit windy on most balconies. But the balcony on the Captain's Suite is a lot better than your average balcony! The entire front section of the balcony is glassed-in to protect the balcony from the wind. You can see it quite well in this photo...
Of course, you can move the patio furniture around to suit
Here's a photo of Jeff and Kellyn with the big loungers arranged to face each other...
There's quite a bit more to the Captain's Suite than just the patio and the living room, of course! One of the features I liked the most was that it has TWO bathrooms. This worked great for me and Kellyn, as we were able to have "his and hers" bathrooms and get cleaned up for dinner without having to do it in shifts. Here's a little diagram (sorry it's so little) that shows the layout of the Captain's Suite...
The Captain's Suite might actually be a very good choice for a small family to stay in... as there are a couple of beds that can be set up in the living room. We like our privacy... so we put Jeff up in his own interior cabin just down the hall from ours... but if you're travelling with small children, there's plenty of room in the Captain's Suite for your entire family. You can get a much better look at it in this video that I made...
(click on the arrow to start the video playing)
I keep talking about the Captain's Suite like there's only one... but actually, there are two onboard the ship... one on each side. In this map of deck nine forward, the two Captain's Suites are 9115 (the one we were in, on the starboard side) and 9128 (the one on the port side of the ship).
On the map, note those blank areas next to the Captain's Suites. (Specifically, the area between 9115 and 9135... and a similar blank space next to 9128.) That was such a mystery to me before the cruise! I couldn't figure out what the heck those blank spots on the map were. I studied every picture I could find on the Internet that showed the Captain's Suites... and every post I could find about them... and couldn't find any information about those mysterious unmarked spaces next door. Once I got onboard, the mystery was solved. It turns out that those rooms simply house air conditioning equipment.
Outside the room, in the hallway, the entrance to the cabin doesn't give any hints as to how fabulous the cabin is. It looks like the entrance to any other room on the ship...
I guess a natural question would be... "if you stayed in the Captain's Suite, where did the Captain stay?" The term "Captain's Suite" is kind of misleading, because the Captain's Suite is NOT where the actual ship's captain stays... he's got a special cabin just behind the bridge on deck eight. In fact, it's directly below the "Captain's Suite". The funny thing is that if you stand out on the balcony of the Captain's Suite and look one deck below you and just slightly behind you, the window of the actual Captain's cabin is quite visible. At night, if he's got his lights on and hasn't closed his blinds, you can see in! If you take a look at the Carnival Sunshine deck plans, the actual Captain's cabin sits just forward of cabin 8101. On the deck plans, it is simply shown as part of the bridge.
You may also be wondering how much it costs to stay in the Captain's Suite... and after I stayed in it, did I feel it was worth the cost?
Like the pricing for any cruise ship cabin, the price of the Captain's Suite varies depending on what week of the year you are looking at. It's more expensive during the summer, for example, when demand for cruising is high. Any week that involves a holiday... such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc. will also be an expensive week. Early to mid-December is an inexpensive time... that's why we cruised when we did. Most people don't want to take a vacation just before Christmas.
The price of the Captain's Suite tends to run about three times the price of a standard balcony cabin. I thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the Captain's Suite... and I'm glad I got to experience it... but I don't think I'll be doing it again. When you could do three weeks in a standard balcony cabin for the cost of just one week in the Captain's Suite... it's kind of hard to justify except for a one-time splurge.
If you're trying to book one of the Captain's Suites on Carnival.com, it might not be totally obvious how to do so at first. The trick to get these suites to come up when booking online is to set "room type" to suite... "stateroom" to Grand Suite... and "location" to forward.
Besides the obvious big advantages to the Captain's Suite, such as the amazing view and the big balcony, there were a couple of minor things I noticed about it that were better than any other Carnival cabin I had been in. For example, most cruise ship cabins have very few electrical outlets... typically just one in the main cabin and one in the bathroom. Some of the newer ships, such as the Carnival Breeze, have two power outlets in the main cabin and one in the bathroom. But the Captain's Suite on the Carnival Sunshine had an abundance of power outlets. I think there were at least ten! Another thing I was surprised to see was that the two televisions had HDMI inputs and you could indeed switch over to the HDMI source. On all the other Carnival ships I've been on, if the TV had an HDMI input, there was no way to switch over to it. In other words, there was no way to actually use it. But the TVs in the Captain's Suite allowed you to hook your own device to the TV and to actually use it. This was great for reviewing video footage from my camera on the big TV.
Jaime Deitsch, Cruise Director
On the ship, she is known as Jaime Dee
Jaime first came to my attention in 2009 when she made a series of posts to John Heald's blog. At the time, she was one of the entertainment staff on the Carnival Splendor... which was making its way to its new home in Los Angeles. As LA is the nearest big port to me, I was very excited that Carnival was moving her newest ship (at the time) so close to me... and I was reading everything I could find about the Splendor and her unusual voyage to California. Unusual because the Splendor is too big to fit through the Panama Canal... so it had to go the long way... all the way around the horn of South America. A 49-day voyage! Each day on John Heald's Blog, Jaime would write a "Dear John" post to fill everyone in on what was happening that day on the Splendor. Click here for a sample.
Jaime's writing style showed off an energetic, positive, and funny personality that came through loud and clear to me. She impressed me, just with her writing. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for her... in hopes that someday I'd run in to her on a Carnival cruise ship. A few years later, I stumbled upon her Facebook page... and put in a friend request. She had no idea who I was, of course, but my Facebook profile photo shows me with a Carnival funnel in the background... and on that basis alone she accepted my friend request.
My Facebook profile photo
I introduced myself on Facebook and mentioned that I hoped to sail with her someday... but for the longest time we never could end up on the same ship at the same time. I thought it was going to happen at one point when they assigned her to a ship in California... but by the time I booked a cruise on that ship, they moved her to a different one! Years literally went by before I finally caught up with her on the Carnival Sunshine. During all those years, I kept reading things on Cruise Critic and on Facebook by people who had sailed with Jaime... and they all had such nice things to say! It seemed that everyone that sailed with her ended up becoming a big Jaime fan. Now I'm one, too.
How can I explain what makes this Cruise Director so much better than the ones in my previous 20 cruises? First off... I've sailed with some really good Cruise Directors! Brent Mitchell, Gary Brierley, Kirk Benning, Stuart Dunn, Stephanie Meads... just to name a few. But Jaime's in a league all her own!
All CDs have that great on-stage presence you expect of a master-of-ceremonies. But where Jaime sets herself apart is what happens when she gets off the stage. At the end of a show, most of the Cruise Directors I've ever seen have simply disappeared. Show over, house lights up, audience leaves, CD disappears out the back of the stage... presumably to the safety of their cabin where they can't be bugged by those pesky passengers. Jaime's just not that way, at all! She's a people person... and it's easy to see. When the show is over, she lingers around the theatre in case anybody wants to talk to her. She's visible, and approachable.
Another big difference I noticed was in the overall energy level. How she can keep that energy up day in and day out, week after week... is beyond me! She's like the Energizer bunny when she's in front of a crowd. Here's a little video to illustrate my point. Watch the energy level of the two crew members (in red shirts) on the left, and then notice how Jaime's energy level is about double what those two put out!
An even better video that gives you a glimpse of Jaime's incredible energy level is the "Jaime Dee Demo Reel"... a series of clips of Jaime at work during a typical week:
One night, after a show in the main theater, I watched Jaime just totally fire up a crowd in the atrium. Jaime just single handedly took the crowd and IGNITED it with enthusiasm... doing whatever it took, including jumping up and dancing on top of the bar! It was amazing to see.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Dunham McPherson
I was also impressed by how Jaime handled herself when things went wrong. Things always go wrong, of course, but Jaime handled those challenges so well! Jaime introduced a song and the DJ played the wrong one... no problem! Jaime laughed it off and let him know that it wasn't the right one... but never lost her cool.
There was also a serious accident one night right in the middle of the Love & Marriage show that Jaime was hosting in the theatre. A woman slipped while coming down these stairs, and ended up taking a horrible fall to the floor below...
The woman was seriously injured in the fall, and this all happened right in the middle of the show Jaime was hosting. The professional and caring manner that Jaime displayed during this horrifying accident was incredible to see. And Jaime topped it off by doing something a few days later that I've never seen a Cruise Director do... she gave an update to the whole ship on the woman's condition. Usually CDs are so concerned about issues of medical privacy that they forget to be human for a minute and give the passengers a little update on what happened to the person involved in the incident we all witnessed.
It was a real pleasure to sail with Jaime... she treated us like VIPs! She sent a basket of fruit and some chocolate covered strawberries to our cabin. She also met us for drinks one night, had free drinks sent to our table in the dining room another night, and bought a drink for Jeff on another night! Apparently the CD has some kind of budget for entertaining VIPs, and as her special Facebook friend and occupant of the Captain's Suite... I qualified, for one week!
Free drinks from Jaime!
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Montego Bay was our first port of call. We had been here one time before, and had a great time on a shore excursion to an all-inclusive resort. So, we decided to do the exact same thing again this time.
When we arrived in Montego Bay, the Norwegian Jewel was already there waiting for us. We last saw her in New Orleans, where she departed just a few minutes before us and was in front of us the whole way down the Mississippi river.
I shot a time-lapse video of our arrival to Montego Bay.
Unfortunately, there wasn't a good place to set up the camera with an un-obstructed view.
I ended up having to shoot through the picture window in our cabin...
which means you'll get a pretty good view of how dirty the window had gotten in the rain the night before!
A closer look at the Norwegian Jewel
We took a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines in 2008 and it was simply inferior to the experiences we had with Carnival, so we never did another with them. We've been loyal to Carnival ever since. However, in 2014 we're going to do a little experiment and try two cruises with Princess. It will be interesting to see how Princess compares to the great experiences we've come to expect from Carnival.
Our shore excursion in Montego Bay was known as the "Seawinds Family All Inclusive Beach day". This is a five-hour visit to a resort that has a beach and swimming pool and which offers free drinks and lunch. The beach is quite beautiful...
Seawinds Resort, Montego Bay
There are a few small rocks in the water, so my advice if you're planning on visiting here is to bring some water shoes. Also, notice the day beds under the white covers. It was the weirdest thing... they all had signs on them that said "reserved"... yet no one used them the entire time we were there. After a few hours of looking at the day beds sitting empty, we finally moved on to one...
During our visit to this all-inclusive resort, we experienced the most bizarre vacation incident that ever happened to us! My wife was served a drink that was laced with some kind of drug, and had an extreme reaction to it. I didn't know that serving drug-laced booze to tourists was a thing, but since the incident I have come to find out that this has actually happened quite a bit to tourists in Mexico and the Caribbean, even causing deaths. Here's how it happened to us:
I went up to the resort's pool
bar and ordered a rum and Coke for myself and a margarita for my wife. The
bartender said that she happened to have just made up a margarita, and handed it
over to me, and then made a rum & coke for me. It should have been a red flag
for me that the margarita just happened to be all made up before I asked for it,
but I had never heard of this sort of thing happening before, so it aroused no
suspicion in my mind.
Shortly after my wife drank this margarita, she got severely drunk and eventually started vomiting. She hadn't had any alcohol prior to the margarita, so this reaction was very unusual. I've seen my wife drink margaritas before and she had never reacted in this way before even after drinking several... so obviously, there was something else mixed in with the margarita. She could barely walk, and my son and I had to assist her in getting back to the ship. She vomited the entire way.
Upon boarding the ship, a security officer noted my wife's extremely drunk condition and flagged her in their system. She was not allowed to be served any alcohol for the entire rest of the cruise. By that evening, my wife was feeling quite a bit better, and by the next day she was 100% again.
Before the incident, I had never heard of tourists in Mexico or the Caribbean getting served drinks that had been laced with drugs. Since the incident, I have found many accounts on the Internet of this happening to other people.
For us, the lesson learned was to never again accept a pre-made drink at a bar!
It seems unlikely to happen if you order something like a beer that comes in a bottle, and I also don't think it's likely to happen onboard a cruise ship. But when you go ashore, don't let your guard down!
After the cruise, we were curious whether the drinking ban was now part of my wife's permanent record with Carnival... and whether this meant that she would never be able to order a drink on Carnival again. On day one of our next Carnival cruise, we were relieved to find that all had been forgiven.
I shot a time-lapse video of our departure from
Montego Bay. Take a look...
Our second port of call was Grand Cayman island. We've been there many times before. It's a classic Caribbean destination for cruise ships. In fact, when we arrived, there were four other ships that had arrived before us! The Norwegian Jewel was there, which was no surprise, as she seemed to be doing the exact same itinerary that we were. The other ships that were there that day were the Island Princess, Carnival Liberty, and Norwegian Pearl.
I was a little surprised to see that Island Princess seemed to be in need of a paint job.
You don't normally see that many rusty spots on a cruise ship.
Cruise ship crews usually take great pride in the ship's appearance and paint over any rusty blemishes.
Norwegian Pearl and Carnival Liberty
I mentioned earlier that we had done a cruise with NCL back in 2008, and that it had compared poorly to the Carnival experience. A lot of things have changed on NCL since we first gave them a try. The Norwegian Pearl has a feature called "The Haven" which intrigues me. It's a little bit like the Serenity Retreat on Carnival, except there's limited access... and it's actually serene. I think this could be something I'd really like. Check out this video and see if the idea of "The Haven" sounds as interesting to you as it does to me. We've decided to give NCL one more try... this time in The Haven on their newest ship... in 2014. It will be interesting to see how it compares to Carnival. (To see how that cruise turned out for us, click here.)
Grand Cayman is one of those unusual cruise ship destinations where you have to use a tender (small boat) to get ashore. Grand Cayman doesn't have a pier large enough to accommodate cruise ships... at least, not yet. If you take a look at this article, you can see that they're in the beginning stages of planning not just one, but two cruise ship piers for the future. I look forward to seeing the day when a visit to Grand Cayman doesn't involve tendering.
Grand Cayman tender
Here's a video of the tender ride from the dock in Grand Cayman, back to the ship. I think it's kind of fun to see the ship getting bigger and bigger as we approach it. To start the video playing, click on the triangle...
In Grand Cayman, we did the Snuba shore excursion. Snuba is like scuba diving, but a lot easier and without involving all the training and certifications. Instead of wearing an air tank on your back, the air tank sits on a small raft on the surface... and a long hose connects you to the air tank. We've done it on several previous cruises, and it's a lot of fun. It's way better than snorkeling, because you can dive down to the bottom rather than having to stay on the surface... and it's a lot easier than scuba diving.
I shot a video of Jeff and Kellyn as we enjoyed the snuba experience at Grand Cayman. Take a look...
Snuba is very convenient in Grand Cayman because there's an excellent dive site that is literally less than five minutes from the tender pier. Here's a picture of it...
A quick orientation session occurs near those red umbrellas on the right side of the picture. Then you get in the water and get used to the equipment. Once you're comfortable, you make your way over to where you see that white raft with the red flag. That's where the shipwreck is, that you see Jeff and Kellyn exploring in the video. That white raft with the red flag is the raft that carries the air tanks which are connected by the long hoses to the divers below.
Our final port of call was Cozumel, which is an island off the east coast of Mexico. Like Grand Cayman, Cozumel is a major destination for cruise ships. There were six other cruise ships in Cozumel the day we visited! In fact, there were so many cruise ships in Cozumel that day that I saw something that I've never seen before in all my previous visits... there were more cruise ships than there were piers to handle them! There were seven ships in port that day, and only six places to dock... so one of the ships had to tender her passengers in. I've never seen that before in Cozumel. The unlucky ship on this day was the Norwegian Jewel.
In Cozumel, we were docked at the Puerta Maya pier next to an old friend, the Carnival Magic. I call her that because we had a really nice cruise on her in 2012. You can read about it here. At the adjacent pier, it was a treat to see the largest cruise ship in the world... the Allure of the Seas. I'll probably sail on her, someday, just to see what all the fuss is about.
Our final shore excursion of this cruise was a real treat. It's a relatively new shore excursion known as "La Casa En La Playa". In English, that's "The House On The Beach". La Casa En La Playa is located at Playa Palancar... which is about a fifteen minute ride from where the cruise ships dock in Puerta Maya.
La Casa En La Playa is basically a little cottage at the beach. What's special about this shore excursion is that it's limited to just 16 people, and everyone is treated like a VIP. There's a private chef to cook for you, and a bar staff to bring you unlimited drinks. You can swim or kayak in the ocean... or enjoy snorkeling at a small reef just a few feet off shore. I wish I had brought my water proof camera on this shore excursion, as there were more fish at this reef than I saw anywhere else during the entire week. I didn't even realize they had a reef, so I left my waterproof camera back on the ship.
All around La Casa are little places for you to relax... pick whatever suits your mood. There are tables to eat lunch at... loungers at the beach for those who want sun... and under the palm trees are day beds, hammocks, and loungers for those who want to stay in the shade.
I know it doesn't look like much, but believe me... this was paradise!
It was warm that day, so we stayed under the shade of the palm trees when we weren't in the water
This is the chef, who cooked a fantastic lunch for us. I had beef fajitas, which were delicious.
We had our lunch served at this table under the palm trees, with a view of the ocean
When we weren't eating or swimming, we were lounging around on a day bed under the palms
Our weather was perfect, but not every day in Cozumel is like that. If a thunderstorm pops up,
La Casa En La Playa has lots of covered areas where you can stay out of the rain.
One word of caution about this shore excursion...
You absolutely MUST book this months in advance of your cruise. As I said, it's limited to just 16 passengers out of the thousands on the cruise. It's a great shore excursion with excellent word-of-mouth, and it books up fast. We were very lucky, as I booked our tickets for this shore excursion months in advance of our cruise... and I got the last three spots. If you wait until you get onboard the ship to try to book this shore excursion, you will almost certainly not get tickets.
Not So Perfect...
Up until now, I've focused this review on all the things I enjoyed about our cruise . I put all that stuff first because I want to be sure that you understand that we enjoyed our cruise and that there was much to like! Really, is it possible to have a bad cruise in the Captain's Suite? I don't think so! In addition to the great suite we were in, there was the best possible Cruise Director, a beautiful newly-refurbished ship, and three great shore excursions in three beautiful Caribbean ports of call. So, really, it was a fine cruise.
However, with all that said, I don't think we'll be cruising on the Carnival Sunshine again. Ever. Let me explain why...
To understand the situation, I have to explain one thing I don't like about Carnival cruises... and why it's never been a problem for me, until now.
I'm sure you've heard Carnival referred to as "The Fun Ships". It's something they take great pride in. They don't want to bore anyone. There's always supposed to be something fun going on. The epicenter of all that fun is usually the mid-ship pool area on Lido deck. This is where it's one big party, most of the time. All of your sail away parties, deck parties, dance parties, hairy chest competitions, ice carving demonstrations, and mixology contests take place here. If there's not live music going on, there's a DJ spinning party tunes.
It's LOUD and rowdy at the mid ship pool. The music is often painfully loud and obnoxious. The people are often drunk. The pool is filled with obnoxious little kids. In short, I absolutely hate it at the mid ship pool! It's simply not for me. If you're 25 years old and looking for a party, the mid ship pool is probably a little slice of heaven for you. I'm 56, and looking for some quiet relaxing time in the sun or in the water... with no noise and no craziness. I'm looking for serenity. So, the mid ship pool area simply doesn't work for me. But on most Carnival ships, that's OK... because there are quiet alternative places to relax. My go-to relaxation place on the Fantasy-class ships is the aft Serenity retreat. On the Dream-class and Conquest-class ships, it's the aft pool and Jacuzzi area.
The very quiet and relaxing aft pool area on the Carnival Breeze.
It was my favorite hang out, and I spent hours and hours here.
The Carnival Destiny did have a quiet aft pool area. But when they did the $155 million transformation in to the Carnival Sunshine, they ripped out the aft pool and replaced it with the Havana Bar and the area that includes Cucina Del Capitano and JiJi's Asian Kitchen. Those are all worthy additions, but without the aft pool area, there's no quiet outdoor place for this old guy to sit and enjoy the sun or to take a quiet swim. You'd think the Serenity Retreat at the front of the ship would be my new go-to place for relaxation... but there's a big problem with that. The Carnival Sunshine's Serenity Retreat is located directly adjacent to the mid-ship pool area. In fact, the gigantic speakers that blare loud music almost all day long are pointed directly at the Serenity Retreat! Believe me, it isn't serene!
Thankfully, we did have the big Captain's Suite and the large balcony that goes with it... so that was our quiet retreat for the week. If we hadn't had that, I'm sure I would have gone crazy during the week. I truly missed the aft pool area that I've come to love on most other Carnival ships. I missed it so much, that I'm pretty sure I won't be coming back to the Carnival Sunshine.
There was one other thing about our cruise that was far less than perfect... and that was the dining situation. In 20 Carnival cruises, I've never had so many bad dining experiences in one week. Let's start with the steak house. I've dined at Carnival steak houses many, many times before and never had a bad experience. Until now! Here's the steak I had...
This was simply the worst steak I've ever had in my entire life. Period. The best way I can explain it to you is to enhance the picture with a little diagram that shows the area of the steak that was actually lean meat...
Everything else outside of that yellow area was full of fat. Look carefully at the lower left part of the steak and you can pretty much see what I mean. It's all fat! Everything outside of that yellow area was completely inedible. And I paid $35 for that!
We've cruised plenty of times before, so I know to expect that there will always be mis-steps. I can roll with the best of them, and overlook a lot. But what irritated me about the dining experience on the Carnival Sunshine is that instead of having mostly good experiences and then every now and then having a bad one... we had mostly bad experiences and every now and then a good one. The steakhouse was far from the only bad dinner experience we had during the week. One night we had a table that was crammed so close to the table next to it that it was awkward and uncomfortable. One night we had a waiter that was so strange it was awkward and uncomfortable. And one night we just had the full combination of horrible dining elements... a bad table, a bad waiter, and bad food served way too slowly. This is why on a lot of cruises, we just eat our dinner in the buffet. But Jeff likes to dress up and have dinner in the main dining room... so that's what we did most nights on this cruise. He looks pretty good all dressed up, doesn't he?
While we're on the subject of food, I want to clue you in to something that not everyone figures out about the Carnival Sunshine... how to get an omelet at the breakfast buffet. On day five of our cruise, I was carrying my breakfast tray to our table and a woman stopped me and asked "Where did you get that omelet?!?" I laughed and said "you mean to tell me that five days in to a 7-day cruise, you haven't found the omelet station?!?" And then when I started to think about it, I realized that I only knew where the omelet station was because I had read about it on Cruise Critic. It's not obvious at all. In fact, it's in a completely different room as all the rest of the breakfast buffet! It's the strangest buffet layout, ever. In fact, to get the items you see here, I had to go to four different places! If you went during peak breakfast demand, that would mean standing in four different lines. Off peak, the lines are short, if any.
Anyway, it's a very odd set-up they have for the breakfast buffet on the Carnival Sunshine. I picked up the orange juice at one serving station. Then I had to go to a different serving station for the plate, napkin, and the potatoes. Then to another station for the two little apple pastries. And finally, to a completely different room for the omelet! (Follow the signs to JiJi's Asian Kitchen... in the morning, it doubles as an omelet station.) Also, note the Lawry's seasoning salt. That's a trick I learned to improve cruise ship breakfasts. I bring that from home.
Now let's talk about lunch. I think that's actually the strong point of the entire Carnival dining experience. I love love LOVE lunches on the newer Carnival cruise ships that have the Funship 2.0 dining options. That would be the Carnival Breeze, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Glory, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Conquest, and Carnival Triumph. (Did I forget any?) These ships have Guy's Burger Joint, plus the new version of Carnival pizza. Between those two, I'm set for lunch every day. There is absolutely no need for me to visit the standard buffet at lunch time when there are Guy Fieri burgers or the new Carnival pizza available. They are delicious! By the way, Guy's Burger Joint will be rolling out to more Carnival ships in the coming years.
The "new" Funship 2.0 version of Carnival Pizza
"The Ringer" at Guy's Burger Joint
But getting back to things that were "less than perfect"... I've got to tell you about the lasagna that they serve for lunch at Cucina Del Capitano. Strangest lasagna I've ever had!
It doesn't really look bad, does it? In fact, it looks pretty good to me. But it's so strange, because they make it with shredded beef. I'm not Italian, and I've never been to Italy... so all I know about how Italian food is supposed to be is based on restaurants I've been to in California. And up until the Cucina Del Capitano, I've never had shredded beef in lasagna. It doesn't seem to belong! Shredded beef is great in a taco, or an enchilada, or on top of nachos... but in lasagna? Weird.
None of the things I've mentioned so far ruined my cruise. The bad dining experiences, the lack of a quiet outdoor space... I could have rolled with all of those things and had a fine cruise. But I'll tell you what really did actually mess things up pretty bad for me. I got sick, about three days in to the cruise. It was just a head cold... but it was a nasty cold, with a nasty cough, and it sapped all my energy and just made me want to sit in my suite and do nothing for the second half of the cruise. While it was mostly my fault for not being better about washing my hands frequently... Carnival contributed to this, to a certain degree. Let me explain.
The Carnival Sunshine has a new feature that I've never seen on any of the other ships in the fleet. It's a special hand washing facility, and you'll find them all over the dining areas of the ship. They look like this...
You put your hands in to those two holes in the center, and there's a thing inside that's kind of like a car wash! It squirts warm water and soap up and down, all over your hands, and then does a rinse cycle to rinse you off. After it's all over, you're supposed to reach up and grab a paper towel and dry off your hands... and then throw away the paper towel in to either one of those round holes on the outside. That's how it's supposed to work. The problem is... see where the sign says "hand towel" and points up to a dispenser above? During the entire cruise, there was only one day when there were ever any paper towels in the dispenser. I don't know if someone screwed up and forgot to order load paper towels onboard, or what. All I know is that there weren't any in the dispensers during most of our cruise. I do think they must have accidentally run out, as the crew ended up putting out small boxes of Kleenex instead. Ever tried to dry your hands off with Kleenex? Try it sometime, it doesn't work! Kleenex are designed for noses... not hands. They are simply too fragile for hands. It was a mess.
So, because there were never any hand towels in the dispenser, I never washed my hands at the restaurants... and I would guess nobody else did, either. By day 3 of the cruise, I picked up a cold that made me feel so bad that it nearly ruined the entire second half of the cruise for me. I mostly blame myself for the bad hygiene, but I blame Carnival a little, too, for not having fully stocked hand washing stations. Whatever caused the lack of paper towels during our cruise has apparently been rectified... I have heard from several people who cruised on the Carnival Sunshine in the weeks after us, and all reported that there were paper towels at the hand washing stations at all times.
Finally, I have to talk about the disaster that is the Carnival Sunshine comedy club. Oh my GOD! If you thought the comedy clubs on other Carnival ships were too small and you were frustrated by not being able to get a seat at a show... you ain't seen nothing yet until you've sailed on the Carnival Sunshine. The comedy club is simply a total disaster. First off, I'm not exaggerating when I say that about 20% of the seats in the comedy club do not even have a direct view of the stage! The layout is so screwed up that they actually put in TV monitors in the two front corners of the room so that people could see what's happening on the stage. Believe it, or not!
But the real problem is that, once again, Carnival has simply made the comedy club too darned small to accommodate the demand. The first night or two, it's not a big problem. It takes people a couple of nights to settle in to their cruise and figure out where everything is. By about the third night, though, everybody's found the comedy club... and they've all decided to attend the exact same show as you. I'm not kidding when I say that we showed up 30 minutes early for a show one night... and had to leave because it was already standing room only. 30 minutes before the show! I don't know about you, but I've got better things to do on a cruise than go to a show an hour early just so I can get a seat.
OK... that's my entire rant. I enjoyed the cruise, but I'm pretty sure I won't be back to the Carnival Sunshine. The Carnival Breeze is a MUCH better ship... that's the one you should book! If not the Breeze, any of the Conquest-class ships are fine, too. And I've got high hopes for the Carnival Vista in 2016!
Great entertainment is one of the reasons that they call them the Fun Ships. There's comedy, musical entertainment, big production shows, game shows, and we even had a juggler/comedian perform for us. They don't let you take pictures at most of those events, so I don't have photos to illustrate this section of the story. Let's just say that we've always been happy with the entertainment on Carnival. It's unfortunate that I was so ill during the second half of the cruise, because by the time the evenings rolled around I was totally wiped out and I ended up skipping quite a few of the shows I normally would have attended.
I've seen the "Love & Marriage" show on just about every cruise I've been on, and let me just say that Jaime did one of the best versions I've ever seen. She's simply the best Cruise Director there is!
One really great thing about the $155 million renovation is that they fixed the problem with the performing area in Ocean Plaza. If you've been on the Carnival Dream, Carnival Magic, or Carnival Breeze... you may have noticed the awkward arrangement for the stage in Ocean Plaza. It's a very goofy setup, with the audience out to the sides, rather than in front of the stage where it should be. And the dance floor is right where the foot traffic in the area wants to be. It's messed up! Luckily, whoever designs the ships must have figured it out... because they got it right on the Carnival Sunshine. They have a really nice area for music and dancing in Ocean Plaza...
An event I won't soon forget was the Playlist Productions show "Studio VIP". This must be new... as I haven't seen it on any of the other cruises we've been on. They actually incorporate about a dozen guests in to the show. The pre-selected VIP guests are brought out of the audience by the professional dancers and the guests just have to let loose and dance and have fun as part of the show. Believe me, I had no intention to volunteer for this... but as we were standing in line to get in to the theatre, I heard Jaime having a hard time convincing people to volunteer for it. They needed twelve VIP guests to be in the show, and they had a hard time getting the last few volunteers. Finally, when they had 11 volunteers, I decided to do Jaime a favor and volunteer to fill the last VIP guest spot. Trust me when I say that this overweight 56-year-old over-the-hill guy is not normally found up on a stage dancing in front of a thousand people. But when in Rome...
That's me, in the tie, up on stage along with several other passengers as part of the "Studio VIP" show.
Jim, You Idiot!!!
I've done so many stupid things in my lifetime that we now just use the acronym "JYI" whenever I have one of those "Jim, you idiot!" moments. There were two such moments during this vacation...
The Wallet Incident
There we were... driving down the freeway to Los Angeles international airport to
catch our flight to New Orleans. The minivan was loaded up with all of our luggage. Excitement was high.
We had to leave the house at Zero-Dark-Thirty in order to be in Los Angeles for a 10 AM flight. We had a little
bit of extra time built in to our schedule in case we ran in to bad rush hour freeway traffic, but only about an hour of
So... about two hours south of our house... we stopped at a gas station / mini mart for some fuel and a snack. I reached in to my pocket to pull out some money for a snack and discovered -- TO MY TOTAL HORROR!!! -- that I did not have my wallet with me! I quickly realized that it was at home, in a drawer.
I did have my passport with me, thank goodness. And Kellyn had her wallet which had credit cards and a little bit of cash. But my wallet was at home, so I had no credit cards and no cash of my own. It would take a four hour drive (two hours up, two hours back) just to get them and return to my current location. I only had a one hour pad in the schedule, so that was definitely not going to happen!
So, we just decided to proceed on our merry way. We figured that since I had my passport, boarding pass, etc... I would have no problem getting on the airplane and the cruise ship. And since Kellyn had credit cards and some cash, we could pay for whatever we needed.
Indeed... it worked out fine... there were no disasters. But just imagine my horror at that instant when I realized that I didn't have my wallet!!! That's a really bad way to start a vacation!
The $1500 Lens Incident
As you can tell, I am kind of a photography nut. I take a big backpack with
me on cruises, and it is full of photography gear and my laptop computer. One of the items I bring along in my
camera backpack is a very high-end Canon "prime" zoom lens. For those of you who know Canon gear, it's the "L"
series 100-400mm zoom... which is about a $1500 lens. It's the most expensive thing I bring with me on a
So, there I was... hanging out in the Captain's Suite... and I had gotten in to my camera backpack to get something for shooting a photo. I decided to move the camera backpack over to the bed for a minute. I lifted the backback with one hand, but didn't have a very good grip on it... and to MY TOTAL HORROR the $1500 lens slid out of the backpack and fell approximately two feet to the floor. There was instantly a horrible sound of breaking glass, and as I looked down at the carpet I saw little bits of broken glass everywhere around where the lens had landed.
At that moment, I had visions of $1500 going down the drain. That is a feeling you do not want to have!
Well, it turns out that when I purchased the lens I made a very smart move... I bought a neutral-density filter for it. That's basically a clear piece of glass that you attach to the front of the lens to protect it from damage. When I dropped the lens to the floor, it was the neutral-density filter that hit the floor first... and that's what shattered. A $50 protective filter! Boy, was that a great lesson on why you protect a $1500 lens with a $50 filter. No damage at all to the lens... just shattered the filter. Whew!
Any review of our Carnival Sunshine cruise would be incomplete without also talking about the things to see and do in New Orleans before or after your cruise. This was our second visit to New Orleans, and we saw a very different side of the city this time around. During our first visit, which was only just three months earlier, it was just me and my wife on that trip. She's fairly easily offended... so we totally stayed away from Bourbon Street and the whole raunchy side of the city. We did a very family-friendly tour of the Big Easy during our first visit. You can read about it here.
This time around, there were other forces at play. Most importantly, we had our 28-year-old son with us... and it was his birthday the night before the cruise. You can't bring a 28-year-old to New Orleans on his birthday and not visit Bourbon Street. The other thing was that even this 56-year-old felt a little cheated by not being able to visit Bourbon Street last time around... so there was no way we would be doing the family-friendly New Orleans tour this time!
I have to start by telling you about the best thing we ate during our entire vacation. You read my rant about the cruise ship food so I think you probably already figured out that the best thing we ate during this vacation was not on the ship... it was at a restaurant in New Orleans. And I've got pictures!
"Barbecue Shrimp" at Pere Antoine's restaurant
We totally lucked in to a fantastic dinner the first night we were in New Orleans. We just walked over to the French Quarter and started looking at restaurants and the menus posted outside... until we found one that all three of us liked. We ended up at Pere Antoine's restaurant at 741 Royal Street.
Kellyn likes shrimp, and also likes food cooked on a barbecue... so when she saw "Barbecue Shrimp" on the menu, it caught her eye. She was surprised when the menu included a complete paragraph explaining that in spite of the name, "Barbecue Shrimp" in New Orleans is not actually cooked on a barbecue. It's a misnomer. It probably ought to really be known as "Cajun Shrimp". In any case, in New Orleans, the term they use is "Barbecue Shrimp". It's cooked in a pot in a sauce with all sorts of Cajun spices... and Kellyn just absolutely LOVED it. She loved it so much that the next day for lunch, at a different restaurant in the French Quarter, she ordered "Barbecue Shrimp" again. It was OK, but not as good as at Pere Antoine's. At dinner on our second night in New Orleans, at yet another restaurant, once again Kellyn ordered the "Barbecue Shrimp"... and again it was OK, but not as good as at Pere Antoine's. So, if barbecue shrimp sounds good to you and you'll be visiting New Orleans sometime soon... take Kellyn's advice and head to Pere Antoine's at 741 Royal Street.
I also totally loved my meal at Pere Antoine's on our first night in New Orleans. I ordered a steak... and unlike the one I paid $35 for at the Carnival Sunshine steakhouse... it was fantastic.
I really enjoyed visiting the French Quarter of New Orleans because there was not only good food, but good music, too. We stopped for a drink at a bar called Maison Bourbon, and listened to a jazz quartet for a while.
Another place where we found good music was at the New Orleans Musical Legends Park. There's a restaurant and bar there, and they had a good band playing.
Sometimes when you're walking along Bourbon Street looking for music, you'll find it right in the middle of the street! Check out this quick video of a band that we ran in to on Bourbon Street...
One last picture, before we wrap this up. Here's Kellyn and Jeff with the obligatory Mardi Gras beads that can be found just about everywhere in the French Quarter...
A Great Series Of Books About Cruise Ships
After you've been on at least one cruise, there's a book that you really should read! It will give you a whole new perspective. It's a book that was written by a guy that worked on several Carnival ships... and he shares some funny stories about life on a cruise ship. To give you a bit of an idea of what kind of book this is... the story starts as he is staying in a hotel room in Miami, the night before his very first day working on a cruise ship. Even though it's the day before his first day onboard, he's basically "on the job", so Carnival is paying for the room. To save the company money, they don't give him a private room... he shares it with someone else. So, he checks in to the room, and the first thing he does is to take a nice long shower. And when he's finally done with his shower, he discovers that his roommate has shown up... and is in the middle of having sex with a woman right there in their shared hotel room! Does that give you an idea of the kind of book this is? Well, that's just the beginning... and things get even more interesting on the ship!
If you've ever wondered what life is like for those people that work on cruise ships... what kind of hours they work... how much they're paid... and what they do when they're not working... this is the book for you. The overall plot of the story is that the author, Brian Bruns, meets a girl named Bianca in Las Vegas and quickly falls head over heels in love with her. It turns out that she's on vacation from her job as a waitress on the Carnival Conquest. Soon enough, the vacation is over and Bianca heads back to the ship... and Brian must make a decision about whether this was just a quick fling, or something more. He decides it was something more, and takes a job with Carnival in order to be with Bianca. Ship life is tough, and creates one roadblock after another between Brian and the girl he loves.
It's a huge love story that literally follows them all around the world. If you just want to hear Brian's best inside stories about life on a cruise ship, you don't even need to read all four books... just get the first one. But if you find yourself loving all the dirty details of life on a cruise ship, and want more... or if you get hooked on the love story and you want to find out whether ship life breaks up Brian and Bianca or whether there's a classic happy ending at the end... buy all four.
|Volume 1||Volume 2||Volume 3||Volume 4|
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with any cruise line... please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher. She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising. Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, or contact her using the information below.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
If you've enjoyed this page, you would probably also enjoy reading my web pages about:
How To Smuggle Booze Onboard
The cruise lines are expecting to make some serious money from you at the bars onboard the ship. The cost of one drink is typically over $10, and most people don't drink alone... so that's over $20 just to share one nice drink with your sweetie. After that first one, how about another? And hey, this is not just a one day cruise... well, you can see how the cost of liquor can really add up by the end of your cruise.
You can save a LOT of money by bringing your own liquor aboard. However, the cruise line wants a monopoly on liquor sales, so they generally do not allow you to bring your own liquor aboard! Every piece of luggage that is brought onboard is x-rayed, and if they spot something in the shape of a bottle... they will open the bag and confiscate any alcohol.
To get around the high price of booze on a cruise, a lot of people DO bring their own liquor onboard. The smart ones will disguise it so that it does not show up on the x-ray machine. An easy way to do this is to use a "ShampBooze" flask...
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or by clicking on one of the quick links below.
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