Cruising is one of the best ways to spend a vacation and to see some of the most beautiful destinations in the world without spending a boat load of money! There are so many benefits in taking a cruise, that if you have never been on one, we definitely recommend placing the experience on your vacation bucket list.
Over the combined Valentine and President’s day weekend, we embarked upon the Carnival Sunshine leaving out of Charleston, SC and headed to Nassau, Bahamas. The boarding process was smooth sailing and in no time we were on board and exploring the ship. Since it has been a few years since either of us has cruised, we were sure to document the experience not only to be more prepared for the next time, but also so that we could provide you with helpful tips just in case you may have an upcoming cruise vacation or are just curious about the cruise experience.
Boarding the Ship
In the days leading up to our Carnival cruise, we used the online check-in system to guarantee our arrival time, provide a payment source for our Sail and Sign card, fill out our health statements, and to print our luggage tags and boarding passes. It was such a time saver to have completed these things prior to boarding the ship.
Shortly after being dropped off at the cruise terminal, we were greeted by the port attendants who assisted with taking our luggage which was already tagged to be checked in. Any bags that we wanted to carry on the ship stayed with us. After handing over our luggage, we followed the crowd into the first terminal building where we had to show our boarding pass to enter, then fall in line to have our citizenship documents checked. Cruisers needed to either present a passport or a (long form) birth certificate along with an ID card to continue onto the ship.
After showing proof of citizenship, we then left the building to catch a shuttle that took us to the security check point building. The security check was much like going through the airport. All bags and items went through the security scanner, then we walked through the security sensors to ensure we were not concealing any weapons. Once we were all cleared, we exited the building to take the trek up the passenger boarding bridge to enter onto the Carnival Sunshine!
Immediately after we got onto the ship, we were able to take the elevator up to our room to drop off our carry-on bags. (This may not happen on every cruise. Sometimes you may have to wait around until they announce that your room is ready.) Outside of our stateroom door was an envelope containing our Sail and Sign cards along with the cruise itinerary for the day. Entering into our room we were welcomed by pre-ordered birthday celebration decor since two us were celebrating our birthdays. In no time, our checked-in bags were also dropped off at our room. While in the room, we took some time to unwind, unpack and to get ourselves accommodated before heading out to explore the ship.
Once we were settled, we made our way up to deck 9 – the Lido deck, to check out the lunch options. There were quite a few things to choose from including a buffet lunch, sandwich and wrap station, pizza, and Guy Fierri’s Burger Joint. We selected the buffet for convenience but it was not all that great, other than the chicken fingers. After lunch, we found the nearest bar to get ourselves a celebratory cocktail, then found a place on the deck to sit and relax while waiting on the sail away party to begin. Because it began raining prior to setting sail, the party was moved to the atrium of the ship, but we decided to remain on the deck under cover. Unfortunately the drizzly weather seemed to soaked up some of the excitement that is usually experienced on the top deck as the ship is departing from the port.
For the remainder of the evening, we attended a welcoming session in the spa area where we received free added on services to our pre-booked spa treatment. We then made our way to an art gallery presentation and received complimentary champagne while learning the technique of buying art at an auction. Later in the evening we enjoyed a three-course dinner in the main dining room, then headed to a packed comedy show, followed by dancing and grooving in the night lounge. The first night was a blast getting acquainted with the different areas of the ship and dropping in on many of the scheduled activities.
The Cruise Experience
Because our cruise duration was four days with one port of call, we spent a significant amount of time on the ship versus on land. We were thankful for the Carnival Hub app which provided a schedule of events going on each day, as well as the ability to search, connect and stay in contact with other sailors on the ship (for a small fee). The app was usable through Carnival’s specialized Wi-Fi service, but the Wi-Fi could not be used to access other outside sites. We mainly used the app to favorite the events that we wanted to attend, to reserve our dinner table, view menus, and to reference the map of the ship when needed.
Some of the highlights of being on the ship included Spa Carnival where we each received a 75 minutes full body massage. The spa was very relaxing and calming. Even feeling the swaying of the ship while lying on the massage bed offered a soothing sensation. The additional cost to have a spa treatment while at sea was much worth it.
Walking around the Carnival Sunshine, we definitely took notice of the beautiful art pieces hung throughout each deck. On each day of the cruise, there was an art auction hosted by Park West Gallery, one of the largest art galleries in the world. We did attend two auctions and one of us even purchased our first piece of fine artwork! Attending the auctions also allowed us to collect a few free small portraits that we’d just have to frame. The cost for the paintings that were up for auction were a bit on the high end ranging from $500 – $9,000, but there were also some mystery paintings that sold for as low as $40.00 a bundle.
When we wanted to chill out, have lunch, people watch or just catch some sun, we headed up to the Lido deck where each time we found a cabana or lounge chair to lay down and relax. The Lido deck contained a community pool and hot tubs that were taken over by children most days, as well as a water slide and gaming area. A few steps up from the Lido deck was the Serenity deck, an adult only area containing a private pool and a hot tub. The hot tub remained crowded for the most part, but we were able to work our way in on one of the days. Being in the hot tub was a blissful experience. It felt as if any stress brought onto the ship melted away into the bottom of the sea. We also enjoyed conversations with some of the other adults who shared the hot tub with us.
In the evenings, there were some adult friendly entertainment that we made time to attend such as the comedy and theater shows. There were two comedians on board alternating show times each night, but we did prefer to see Just June. She was hilarious and the crowd enjoyed her. The other show we attended was a musical consisting of popular 1970s songs. On another night we anticipated going to a magic show, but our bodies were just so tired that we regretfully missed it. Other adult friendly entertainment included the live bands that played in the ocean plaza section of the ship, and sing along tunes in the Piano Bar. And of course there is always the casino and the nightclub. The casino also offered a safe space to light a cigarette for the smokers.
Now, we cannot continue to talk about the cruise experience without mentioning the food! We were so grateful that the cost of the cruise included our meals because we did take full advantage of fulling our belly’s. For breakfast we alternated between room service, the Lido Marketplace buffet and the dining room. During the lunch hours, we preferred to pick up a burger or two at Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint! The burgers and fries were excellent! Each evening we ate dinner in the main dining room but since we did not have a dedicated dinner time, we were sure to reserve our table through the Carnival Hub app a few minutes before arriving. We never had to wait! The dinner menu varied each night, but there were always really good selections and specialized dishes related to the ports of call. The best thing about dining in the main dining room was that if you could not decide between dishes, you could order any or everything. Some nights we each ordered multiple appetizers and entrees. The portion size for each dish was adequate but not necessarily plentiful. Nonetheless, most of everything that we tried was delectable.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise experience, there were some moments in which the ship became more rocky than what we expected. It was never enough to make us feel nauseous, but it was just enough to make us aware that the sea is a dominant force. It was mesmerizing to watch the blue waves of the sea from our balcony, but once we got to Nassau, Bahamas, we were more than excited to be back on land.
Our Time in Nassau, Bahamas
The Sunshine arrived in Nassau during the early morning, but we did not exit the ship until about 9:00 AM. We were delightfully surprised at how quickly we were able to depart without waiting in long lines. After we came off of the boat, we took a few photos as there are photographers all around, then we walked over to our meeting zone to start on our pre-booked excursion. It was very easy to locate the zones for each excursion as they were right on the deck, and the tour guides also held up signs to direct the guests.
The shore excursion that we booked included a speed boat ride to a few private beaches, and snorkeling to see sea turtles and tropical fishes. It was a very fun adventure and although we did not get to see the turtles under the water, the fishes and underwater reef were absolutely beautiful. Going snorkeling was a great experience. After our excursion was completed, we walked around the city for a bit in search of a great place to get conch fritters.
Our excursion guide recommended the restaurant Drifters down at the Fish Fry that we decided to try. The Fish Fry is an area consisting of a few different restaurants. While at Drifters, we did enjoy fried cracked conch, conch fritters, Caribbean flavored wings and specialty cocktails. During our time at the Fish Fry, we also convinced one of the food vendors to allow us to try raw conch. He also gave us the slime of the conch which is supposed to be an aphrodisiac. It was tasteless, but the conch meat itself was seasoned to perfection and was very tasty.
After leaving the Fish Fry, we began the walk back towards the cruise port since the time to be back on the ship was nearing. Along our walk, we passed by the beach which was too enticing not to stop. The turquoise water in the Bahamas is absolutely gorgeous! It was too bad that we could not spend more time at the beach, but along the way back to the ship we did get to stop to have some Bahama Mama’s, then found a shop to purchase souvenirs. We only wished that we had more time to visit the Straw Market and some other places of attraction. Although we felt quite rushed towards the end of our Nassau visit, we did make it back to the ship on time.
Our time on the Carnival Sunshine cruise ship and in Nassau was a wonderful experience. The four days cruise duration seemed to be just enough time to feel like a true vacation. Before this trip it had been a while since either of us had cruised so we made notes of a few things that may help us for our next embarkation or for any of our friends who may be cruising in the near future.
Cruise Smart: Takeaways and Tips
- Complete the online check-in within 48 hours hours of your departure date. If you wait to check-in within the 24 hours window of your cruise date, you will likely have to wait to complete the process during embarkation.
- Print your luggage tags and boarding passes in advance. Staple your Carnival issued luggage tags to your bags before reaching the port. Keep your boarding pass in hand as you go through the boarding process. The porters will check for it frequently before you board the ship.
- You will either need a long form birth certificate along with an identification card, OR a passport to board the ship. Keep in mind that a passport is highly recommended just in case there is an instance that you would have to fly from one of the international destinations.
- Do not pack any plastic water or soda bottles in your carry-on bag. You can bring a hard plastic water bottle or Yeti cup. Each guest is also allowed to bring one 750ml bottle of wine, and a 12-pack can of soda on board. There are refrigerators in the room. Also, do not bring any large portions of food or fruit on the ship. Snacks are okay.
- Download the Carnival Hub app prior to boarding the ship to ensure that it is completely installed and usable. The app will assist you with keeping up with the on board events and activities as well as allow you to locate and chat with other cruisers. A flat $5.00 fee applies to each guest for using the chat services.
- If you are parking at the cruise port terminal, be sure to already set money aside so that you are readily able to pay to exit the lot after the cruise.
- If you are sharing a cabin with multiple persons, discuss in advance whether a drink package would be agreeable among all in the cabin. The (alcoholic) drink package cannot be purchased for one guest without it applying to all guest sharing a cabin. The alcoholic drink package is about $55 per day, per person, but may be less if it is purchased in advance online. Outside of the beverage package, the cost for individual cocktails on board range from $7-$20, plus an automatic gratuity. Guests can also purchase bottles of liquor on board (tax-free), but bottles will be held until debarkation.
- In regards to gratuity, guest can add the gratuity charge prior to paying for their cruise in full, otherwise it will be added to the guest invoice at the end of the cruise. This auto-gratuity mainly covers the housekeeping and restaurant staffs, but guest can choose to visit the Guest Services desk to have it removed. Remember it is always a great gesture to leave a monetary tip for your housekeeper.
- You cannot purchase anything on the ship with cash or credit card. Instead you will have to load money or link a credit/debit number to your Sail and Sign card which serves as your ID and method of payment while on board. You can set spending limits for yourself and others who may be linked to your account.
- While on the ship, we recommend not trying to attend all events in one day. If you have more than one full day at sea during your cruise duration, you may see that many of the activities are repeated on different days. Spreading out your activities may help to prevent boredom by the last sea days of the cruise.
- The photos that are taken by the professional photographers on board can be quite expensive so we recommend either planning a separate budget just for photos, or pre-purchasing a photo package. More than likely you will fall in love with your smile and want to take all of your photos home. You may find that lots of people sneakily use their cell phones to photocopy their pictures, but do whatever floats your boat.
- At the end of our cruise and during the debarkation process, we noticed that going through U.S. Customs in Charleston was a breeze compared to other ports we have sailed out of. The U.S. Customs officer only asked us if we brought back any food, then let us pass when we answered no. We did not spot any drug dogs present or luggage searches taking place.
- Before you enter onto the ship, take motion sickness medicine especially if you are sensitive to motion. Although the cruise ships are large vessels, you will probably still feel slight movements of the sea at some point.
- If you decide not to purchase a Wi-Fi package while on board, place your phone on airplane mode to avoid any roaming data charges, or contact your cell phone company to determine if charges would apply if using your cell phone on a cruise.
- If possible, take a day off from work or school following the end of your cruise. Your body may need time to fully rest from all of the excitement experienced and to readjust to being on land full time. It is normal to still feel your body swaying from thinking it is still on the ship.