On Sunshine, Fun Ship 2.0 full course

By Tom Stieghorst

The Blue Iguana Tequilla Bar on the Carnival Sunshine.When Carnival Cruise Lines remade its 1996 ship the Carnival Destiny into the Carnival Sunshine, it was a chance to put all of the elements of the line's 21st century food and beverage strategy into one ship.

As a result, the Sunshine is a cornucopia of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, dessert stands, buffets and even an automated brew dispenser called Beer Spot.

Carnival's label for its new generation of branded ship amenities is Fun Ship 2.0, and the Sunshine is the first of its 24 ships to have all of the amenities together.

A few of them are only on the Sunshine at this point. In an aft area that was formerly the pool deck on the Destiny and is now enclosed, the Havana Bar sits as an invitation to all things Cuban, and Latin in general.

Its functions change over the course of the day. In the morning it is an overflow breakfast area from the Lido Marketplace. This is where I went with my coffee most mornings, to a table by the window looking out over the stern.

Two omelet stations are situated unobtrusively in the Havana Bar. They give way as morning turns to noon to a menu of Cuban sandwiches and finger food.

By evening the bar becomes busy, but there's plenty of room. The decoration of Iberian tiles invokes Havana without going over the top. The classic daiquiri, a drink invented in a bar in Havana, was the best I've ever had on a ship.

The Havana Bar on the Carnival Sunshine.After 9:30 p.m., the Havana Bar becomes a Latin dance venue, with a three-piece band alternating with recorded salsa music. It morphs again at 12:30 a.m. into a contemporary disco.

Adjacent to the Havana Bar are two specialty restaurants, Cucina del Capitano and Ji Ji's Asian Kitchen. Both are free at lunch but cost $12 for dinner.

Dinner at Cucina comes with a hearty sing-along to Dean Martin's 1953 classic, "That's Amore," led by the wait staff. It is pure Carnival.

Ji Ji's was a hit with many of my colleagues on the cruise. It is the first such pan-Asian outlet on Carnival.

It would have been easy to throw together some of the most familiar dishes from the Chinese-American restaurants that dot every hamlet in America.

But Ji Ji's menu is more diverse and the ingredients authentic. My favorite was the slow-braised wagyu beef short ribs with watermelon radish, burdock root, wasabi pearl and crisp potatoes.

For fun and a bit of theater, diners roll dice to determine who is lucky. That diner orders for the group. Portions are meant to be shared. Service was especially friendly, enthusiastic and personable the two times I tried this venue.

Another cluster of dining spots is on Deck 5 aft, featuring Shake Spot, JavaBlue Cafe and Taste Bar. The charge for a shake is $3.95 and well worth it. Shakes spiked with liquor are priced higher.

Ji Jis Asian Kitchen is Carnivals pan-Asian offering.JavaBlue serves Euro-style cappuccino and espresso and combines nicely for breakfast with Taste Bar, a sampling of four popular items on the dining room menu, plus salads, in a casual atmosphere.

Alchemy Bar is in this vicinity, offering cocktails with artisanal ingredients, such as a martini infused with lavender. Also nearby is the RedFrog Pub, Carnival's Caribbean-influenced take on the classic British tavern.

The RedFrog is quite large on the Sunshine and seemed a little underused. Cruise director Kevin Noonan said that the nine-day Mediterranean itinerary, which I had joined, is especially port-intensive, and that when the ship gets to New Orleans in November, the itineraries may give passengers more time to frequent the pub.

Two quick-serve restaurants are at the main pool area. The free burgers at Guy's Burger Joint fly off the grill. They are accompanied by some pretty good fries.

A popular breakfast option was the Blue Iguana Cantina, which offers build-your-own tacos and burritos. The cantina sits just a few feet away from the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar (not open for breakfast), which in turn sits across the pool from its twin, the RedFrog Rum Bar.

When cruisers need an escape from the poolside music, a nice option is the Library Bar, a favorite of Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill. This combines the traditional quiet of the ship's library with a small bar and a wine-dispensing machine that can be used when the bar isn't staffed.

It's a nice meeting spot, as is the Sunshine Lobby Bar at the base of the atrium, which is a full circle instead of a half-circle as on the Destiny and is dominated by a glowing orange spherical light fixture.

The main dining event for many passengers will be Fahrenheit 555, the new generation of steakhouse on Carnival, which carries a $35 charge.

I admit to some nostalgia for the old supper club steakhouse that was Carnival's first take on alternative dining. But Carnival Chief Marketing Officer Jim Berra said the idea was to make the atmosphere more contemporary and therefore appealing to a younger passenger demographic.

Fahrenheit 555 is quite handsome in its dark gold and rich brown livery. The service is a cut above the main dining room, as might be expected. And the meat is both plentiful and savory.

Stuffed from a previous day's eating, I shied away from the 18-ounce portion of beef and tried the lamb chops. They were thick and done just the way I ordered. A selection of premium wines is also available for pairing.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 

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