It’s been at least ten years since my last Carnival Cruise, and my-oh-my things have changed. Last month, my friend, Suzie, and I went on a girl’s getaway on the Carnival Sunshine to relax and unwind before the busy start to the new year. We set out to disconnect from the world and find time to read, soak in some sunshine, and remember what it was like to be entertained without staring at the screen on our phones. We’d both been on Carnival before and were curious if it was still the same, or if it had grown up as we had. We were seriously, are-you-kidding-me, jaw-droppingly impressed.
Carnival Sunshine – First Impressions
I deliberately picked a newer ship. I wanted to see how things have changed and experience what today’s engineers and designers had dreamed up for a cruise liner. First of all, there are restaurants — LOTS of restaurants. Of course, as a foodie, that would be the first thing I noticed. We ate at a different place every day. There’s a coffee shop, a steakhouse, and even a sushi bar that’s all quiet and zen-like for when we wanted something light and casual but were in no mood for a buffet.
The rest of Carnival Sunshine had equally impressive changes. There’s still a pool deck with rum drinks and a DJ playing tunes where you can get your Caribbean-feeling on, but there’s also a spa-like serenity deck with hammocks and lounging pods where you can get lost in a good book or drift in and out of a nap while listening to soothing tunes.
Carnival Sunshine – Entertainment Choices
And as for entertainment, I confess, I can’t tell you much about anything but the comedy club. The professional acts they had were straight off of HBO or Comedy Central and were so belly-bustingly funny, that we tried to see every show. There was also a pretty darling little pub, and a Library Bar decked out with a wine dispenser machine that would please even the most sophisticated wine snob.
Turns out, it seems the underlying theme is choices. So many different choices that you can really customize your experience the way you want it. Thankfully, I traveled with a friend that was also a geeky-book-enthusiast, peace-and-quiet-seeking, coffee-addict, wine-sipping-foodie with a flair for fun. But, if there’s a different type of experience you’re looking for, my bet is that they’d have that to.
Here’s a glimpse of what week looked like during a seven day Western Caribbean cruise.
DAY 1 – SAIL AWAY FROM CAPE CANAVERAL
We started our cruise in the coffee bar, with a little extra somethin’ somethin’ in our cappuccinos. Some people choose fruity drinks with an umbrella for their sailing away celebration. We chose Caribbean Coffee infused with tia maria and appleton rum with a sprinkle of nutmeg.
If you’re a coffee lover like me, be sure to pick up this card as soon as you get on board:
Next, we went to the Taste Bar. This is a new thing where you can taste samples from some of the different restaurants before making a reservation. We couldn’t decide, so we ate at ALL the restaurants.
For our first night, we went the traditional route with our assigned table dining. What’s new and cool is that it is set up a little more like restaurant seating, so we had our own table rather than sharing a big one with a bunch of strangers.
DAY 2 – NASSAU
Our first port, the Bahamas. And if you can believe it, this is the first time I’ve been. I know, you’re shaking your head at me. I live in Florida, I travel the world, and yet I had never been to the Bahamas!
Because we felt adventurous, we decided to go for a walk and find some local food. I highly recommend it. Just a short distance from the port is Western Esplande Beach (it’s totally walkable) where we found a ton of food trucks and little huts offering local curry, fried conch, chicken and rice, fresh seafood, and a great selection of beer. Perfect little spot to just chill.
That night, we had a steak dinner and then took our cheese plate up to the Library Bar for a self-guided wine tasting. They were super accommodating letting us take our cheese plate to go, and then we were surprised with some chocolates in our stateroom to thank us for trying out the steakhouse. Very cool.
DAY 3 – SPA DAY AT SEA
Our first full day at sea — spa day! We started the morning with a healthy room-service breakfast on our balcony, attended a detox seminar, did some yoga, got a massage, and pretty much lounged around in the spa all day. Since we’d been focusing on wellness, for dinner we went to the sushi restaurant for something light.
DAY 4 – ST THOMAS
Our second port and another new place for me — St. Thomas. A combination of lush green rolling hills and beaches so perfect they belong on a calendar. I would seriously consider moving here.
For this port, we went with the sunset sailing shore excursion and if I could give you one tip — it’s to be first in line for disembarkation. For some reason, it took forever to get off the ship here and we nearly missed our tour. It seems like we easily walked off the boat at all the other ports with no line at all, but for this one there was a wait.
Once we found our guide, we hopped onto an open air jeep-like safari truck and took a beautiful ride through the island to a marina where we surrendered our shoes to the captain of a catamaran and hopped onto a barefoot sunset cruise.
This experience was really kind of stuff vacations are supposed to be made of — snorkeling along vibrant coral reefs, walking along gorgeous beaches, and then listening to awesome music while sailing into the sunset. Pure magic.
DAY 5 – SAN JUAN
I received so many tweets and suggestions for food in this destination that I was thankful we had a full day in Puerto Rico. We decided to explore on our own and spend the day in Old San Juan. My friend Suzie downloaded self guided walking tour to her phones and we used it as a map to find our way around all the must-see sights.
I had received a tip on Facebook from a fellow writer to check out Cuatro Sombras for coffee. In fact, she said it was a “must-do!” They roast their own beans in the cafe and make some killer espresso drinks. Afterward, we followed the guide and walked strolled along the wall at Paseo del Morro, taking time to look at some of the artwork and monuments along the way.
The path lead us to the old city gate and up through Caleta de San Juan, a beautiful neighborhood where a few local artists have studios and shops. One of the studios we ventured into, Tres Mujeres, is curated by three women who all have a unique talent, from painting to quilting and ceramics. I do love handmade souvenirs.
Of course, we couldn’t miss out on some great Puerto Rican Food. For lunch, we went to Barrachina, famous for creating the pina colada. But their amarillos and other Puerto Rican specialities are delicious too, including coconut flan! We spent the rest of the afternoon seeing the fort, photographing the colorful architecture of Old San Juan, and shopping at some of the local craft shops.
One little treat I wasn’t expecting that was perfect for a hot day — “piragua.” It’s shaved iced flavored with any number of sweet syrups. I chose guanabana since we don’t see that flavor too often back home.
DAY 6 – GRAND TURK
Grand Turk was a relaxing beach day for us. We grabbed a sandwich to-go and some fruit at the buffet to make a picnic and then found a quiet spot with a view.
Toward the afternoon, we got a little hot and thought it would be a good time to try out the water slides on board the ship. We practically had the place to ourselves since it seemed everyone was out on a shore excursion! I gotta say, though, next time I’m leaving the waterslides to the kids. At the bottom of the tube I sat straight up, laughing at myself, and shouted to Suzie, “I feel like I just got punched in the face by water!”
DAY 7 – DAY AT SEA
Our last day at sea was all about trying the things we hadn’t yet done and packing for our trip home the next morning. We tried the Bitter & Blanc Bread Pudding, and it was exactly like the recipe I had made at home. I have to pat myself on the back for my cooking skills, because I think mine tasted about the same — sweet and delicious.
We also did the Chef’s Table Experience. This is a MUST-DO and I highly recommend signing up on your first day to make sure you get a spot because it’s limited to about 10 people. It included a tour of the kitchen with the ship’s executive chef, a cooking demo, a multi-course dinner paired with wine, surprise entertainment, and a keepsake photo.
Overall, our cruise on Carnival Sunshine was definitely a relaxing week full of wonderful surprises, great food, and a few new destinations checked off my bucket list.
This post was created as part of my collaboration with Carnival. As always, all of the opinions, thoughts, and ideas in this post are my own.