Some background: This was a family cruise to celebrate the high school graduation of our older granddaughter. There were seven of us – Poppy and Nana (both 65), older son (41) and his daughter the graduate (18), younger son and his wife (late 30s) and their daughter (3). We take an annual family vacation each year and gave the graduate her choice of destinations; she chose a cruise. Poppy and Nana are Diamond on RCCL. We last sailed on Carnival 20 years ago. (A bit of trivia – we sailed on Destiny, Sunshine’s former identity, when she was new, 25 years ago.)
We didn’t want to travel to FL with a three-year-old, so we started looking at Carnival Sunshine out of Charleston. Five days seemed like a reasonable duration, so we booked it. In order to make things easier with the little one, we did a couple of things – purchased FTTF and a villa at Half Moon Cay. Both were good investments.
Due to the awesome help from folks on this board and a lot of research, I felt like I went into the trip well-prepared. In general, I was pleasantly surprised by Carnival and Sunshine. I will try to make some fair comparisons of the two lines.
The Hub app was really useful. For $5/pp for the week, we got a chat feature which was really helpful ( I guess some RC ships have this, but we've not been on one). Also, we all got acceptable internet for about $10 a day/pp, compared to RC price of $15.99 (I think)
A minor thing for some, but I enjoyed it - the shower was twice as big as a standard shower on RC.
The casual dining options were awesome - the burgers, pizza, and Mexican casual eateries were absolutely delicious. Far and above the same foods on RC.
HMC is beautiful - soft sand and great swimming. Of course, the villa made it such a wonderful experience - I would highly recommend it for a group of our size or larger. The food at the the island buffet sucked, just like it does on CocoCay and Labadee.
I thought the dining room meals were slightly better - maybe because I was just happy to have new options. They had a "port of call" option which was interesting. I had shrimp and grits the first night and it was really good. We had great service in the MDR, but it's the first time we've done traditional dining in a long time, so that may be the difference. The waiters were wonderful, especially bringing out fruit, etc. to keep the little one satisfied. I thought the desserts were better than the ones we've had recently on Royal.
The Serenity deck was amazing. More beautiful than any Solarium I've been in.
Entertainment - (we didn't do any production shows) We've been very disappointed in the musical entertainment in smaller venues on RC recently. It seemed like there were more pre-dinner music options on this ship. We are big trivia people and there were lots of games and trivia events on this ship. The cruise director's staff were very personable and enthusiastic.
They have something called the Sea Day brunch - a really nice upgraded menu in the MDR that we tried the first sea day.
Dr. Seuss breakfast ($5/pp) was well done and the little one had a blast.
The pool was ridiculously small for the number of people. The little loved the little splash area in the water park area and the graduate liked the big waterslides and the ropes course.
Bar service - bar waiters were almost non-existent (only encountered a couple at the pool) and there was a shortage of bartenders everywhere. It felt like it was a struggle to get every drink.
The ship was difficult to navigate - lots of areas you couldn't get to without going up or down a level (may just be Sunshine).
The casino was very smoky, especially the casino bar area and it seemed like you had to walk through it a lot to access other areas.
Standard buffet was very comparable.
Balcony cabin was comparable to a standard balcony on Royal.
Service was very good (other than the bar staff issue).
The ship was maintained well, much like an older Royal ship.
I don't think we'd sail on this particular ship and itinerary - we don't like short cruises. But if we got a deal good enough to cover our free and D lounge drinks and had an interesting itinerary, I think we'd consider Carnival again.