ABOARD THE CARNIVAL SUNSHINE — Sailing through the Mediterranean on a nine-day cruise from Barcelona to Venice, this Carnival Cruise Lines ship was docked next to some newer vessels from competing lines, including MSC Cruises’ Preziosa and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic.
Can a ship that is essentially 17 years old compete with these newbies? That’s what Carnival set out to answer when it radically overhauled the former Carnival Destiny and gave it a new name.
In the process of a $155 million makeover, Carnival added 182 cabins, raising the ship’s capacity by 14%. A bevy of new branded amenities, higher water slides, a smaller theater and new nightspots are some of the other changes.
A plus on the Sunshine is the new forward area. On Decks 11 through 14, Carnival added cabins where there had once been a skylight to illuminate the atrium. They are connected to the expanded Cloud 9 spa and fitness center and to a three-tier, adults-only Sanctuary area.
The combination works for clients who don’t want the party noise so appealing to others onboard. The spa staterooms come with access to the Cloud 9 thermal suite, a $119 extra for most passengers.
The evening dining and entertainment routine has changed a lot since the Carnival Destiny was introduced in 1996, and the ship’s redesign reflects the new, less regimented style.
The three-deck theater on the Destiny has been cut down to two decks and rebranded as the Liquid Lounge. Seating is removable on the main floor, enabling it to function as a disco after the show.
This kind of dual-purpose space is becoming fashionable on many lines. It allows for more versatile use of the theater, which is no longer linked so closely to the main dining room schedule. The downside is that it feels a bit generic, with less excitement than a purpose-built space.
Passengers also seemed to have trouble grasping that functions change in dual-use spaces. In the aft of the Sunshine, the former pool area was enclosed and was given over to two specialty restaurants and the Havana Bar.
In the morning, the area is an extension of the Lido buffet. But perhaps because it is labeled a bar, or it can come with a dining fee in the evening, the area is largely empty at breakfast despite a pair of omelet stations there.
The poolside BlueIguana Cantina also offers breakfast, and the breakfast burrito was a popular take-away option for passengers leaving the ship early on shore excursions.
The Havana Bar is one of several new nightlife areas, and it is a nice addition to the entertainment mix. It serves up Cuban sandwiches and pastries during the day, and it alternates between a live Latin band and recorded salsa music from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., and turns into a disco after that.
The Destiny’s original disco was ripped out in favor of a large RedFrog Pub, which seemed underused on this voyage. Also searching for customers is the Shake Spot, which seems like a great idea that isn’t getting much traction.
Another great idea with some flaws is the Beer Station, a pour-it-yourself concept that gives Lido buffet customers easy access to a brew at lunch or dinner. I wish this were a home run, but it took me several attempts to learn how to draw a beer that wasn’t mostly foam. Even when you learn the trick, there’s about 60 cents of foam in your $4 beer.
New specialty restaurants for the Sunshine include Ji Ji Asian Kitchen and the Italian-influenced Cucina del Capitano, each priced at $12 per person, and Fahrenheit 555, the steakhouse, which carries a $35-per-person charge.
One problem that needs to be addressed is the bleed-through of late-night music from Deck 5 venues such as the RedFrog Pub and Ocean Plaza to the cabins above them on Deck 6.
When I’m tired, I can sleep through almost anything, but one of my neighbors on Deck 6 requested a different cabin after the first night of the cruise, and a majority of passengers I think would be disturbed by the music, which lasts until at least 12:30 a.m.
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.