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The $155-million transformation of Carnival Destiny into the 3,006-passenger Carnival Sunshine puts a whole new spin on future decisions about remaking ships. With the slowdown in newbuild construction, cruise lines have worked hard to bring their older vessels closer to the newest ones in terms of amenities and atmosphere. But the two-year process of planning Sunshine and the 75 days of actual refurbishment prompted Carnival Cruise Lines to describe this as the most ambitious transformation of an existing ship to date.
The remaking of Destiny was expensive in terms of man-hours (2 million, with 3,000 contractors from 40 countries working around the clock), money and time that the ship spent out of service. For this reason, future decisions will have to be carefully considered when it comes to this degree of renovation, as well as when choosing to perform what Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill called 2.0 Light — a cosmetic refurbishment with the addition of new features.
Cahill said that when a ship gets to a certain age — about 15 years old — the company must take a serious look at whether it is going to redecorate or take the refurbishments further.
In the case of Sunshine, the economics were improved by adding 182 more staterooms and increasing the number of entertainment and dining venues, which Cahill said increases onboard spending.
He acknowledged that Sunshine had a rough delivery, revealing that the company was “caught by surprise” with vandalism of air conditioning and plumbing systems, although he declined to name the vandals. However, on my July cruise, passengers clearly weren’t concerned about the ship’s history; they just enjoyed its offerings. Even with more guests onboard, Sunshine is a very cleverly arranged vessel.
“If you’re putting more people on a ship, you’d better know how to spread them out,” Cahill said.
Carnival achieved this balance with creative use of space and staff policies. Breakfast in the Lido is served from 6 a.m. to noon and, on my cruise, there was always seating available and very few lines at the food stations, primarily because there were breakfast and lunch options in 10 locations.
Seating was actually reduced in the Liquid Lounge, and its stage now extends into the audience, since Sunshine has so many other entertainment offerings that the crowds have sorted themselves out. After the last show, curtains enclose the side tiers of seats to create a nightclub. Other entertainment options include watching movies at the pool, dancing in several venues, singing in the piano bar, youth and teen facilities and catching a bite to eat here, there and everywhere.
It’s not so easy to find Destiny within Sunshine. In addition to creating an additional deck for its largest WaterWorks, Carnival moved public spaces and staterooms around, increasing capacity 14 percent, and also adding 14 percent more deck chairs, 19 percent more dining capacity and 25 percent more space for children. A 32 percent increase in bar seats and 58 percent more fitness equipment really serves to accommodate the larger numbers well.
Among features added to Sunshine are Carnival’s first three-deck-high Serenity adults-only retreat; a 270-square-foot LED screen poolside; SportSquare, with its ropes course, mini-golf, basketball court, jogging track and more; RedFrog Pub, featuring Carnival’s ThirstyFrog Red beer; Ji Ji Asian kitchen; Guy’s Burger Joint; Cucina del Capitano; BlueIguana Cantina, with excellent burritos from breakfast into the afternoon; Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse; Shake Spot; The Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez; the quiet Library Bar; and live shows ranging from Playlist Productions to Hasbro, The Game Show.
A tip your clients will thank you for is recommending Ji Ji for its outstanding and remarkable value — only $12 for adults and $5 for children. Tell clients to make reservations as quickly as possible, and watch for this eatery to appear on other Carnival ships.
Sunshine will not return to Europe next year, responding to high air pricing that poses a challenge for the primarily American passengers. But Cahill did express hopes for a return in the next couple of years. In the meantime, Sunshine will sail a variety of Caribbean itineraries.