I’ll admit, when I got invited on a 7-day cruise aboard the Carnival Sunshine, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d never been on a cruise before, afterall. Maybe I was assuming I’d be incapacitated by seasickness and confined to my cabin the entire 7 day trip, and so the fact that I wasn’t was pretty much a win in my book (thank you, Bonine).
Seasickness-less aside, however, I was beyond impressed. With the ship. With the service. And most of all, with the food.
Every night the food seemed to get better and better. At one point, around the 5th course of the Chef’s Table dinner, I had to remind myself that I was ON A FREAKING BOAT.
All my presumptions about cruise dining must have come from the 80s. Not that I ever went on a cruise in the 80s, or ever for that matter, but still, you probably have the same picture in your head: big, generic buffets and fancy dining rooms with forced seating and mediocre American fare. Amirite?
With the Carnival Sunshine’s “Funship 2.0” updates (a $155 million dollar-retrofit completed in 2013), they have taken their dining to an entirely new level. You are no longer limited to just the buffet or main dining room, but can now choose your own dining experience in one of their 4 specialty restaurants on board the ship. Yes, there are four entire restaurants on the thing. It’s ridiculous. And delicious.
Each night we were able to experience one of the ship’s specialty dining options, including JiJi’s Asian Kitchen, where they started the night off right with these gorgeous sake sangria cocktails (and how’s that for dinner with a view?) Other highlights of this meal were the Hakka-style noodles and the wonton dessert (over a coconut-tapioca pudding that is high on my “to-recreate” list). While JiJi’s is considered a premium dining option, the cost is only $15 per person. For anything you want (so might I suggest ordering one of everything and sharing?) A steal.
The next night it was off to Italy (well, technically we were on our way to Mexico, although dinner made us feel otherwise). Cucina del Capitano is the ship’s family-style Italian restaurant, again, like JiJi’s, only $15 for all-you-can-eat (and I know some might see that as a challenge, but I saw it as an opportunity to try a bite or two of everything on the menu). This bruschetta and these arancini (fried risotto balls) blew me away, not to mention the presentation.
We stayed in a luxurious balcony stateroom. While it was by no means spacious (cruise accommodations rarely are), it was clean and comfortable and we loved being able to step outside and breathe in the sea air. Then again, it did have more closet space than we have in our bedroom at home, so…
The third night, after departing the port of Cozumel, we dressed up in our ‘Cruise Elegant’ attire and made our way to the ship’s prime steakhouse, Fahrenheit 555.
I loved the unique amuse-bouche bites served before the meal – everyone got something different. Taylor got the most adorable little mini burger I’ve ever seen, and I got… this stick. Actually it was a unique take on a prosciutto and melon combination, with paper thin slices of melon and prosciutto draped over a rustic twig. (What I want to know is, whose job is it to collect and inventory the twigs before each voyage?)
This restaurant boasts a reasonable $35 per person price tag, at which cost you can order the filet. Or the lobster (like I did, what can I say, I’m a rebel). Or both for that matter.
Dessert consisted of a chocolate sampler or the steakhouse’s signature cheesecake (literally the size of your face). I opted for the sampler, because, chocolate.
After stuffing our faces with meat and lobster and chocolate, we returned to our room to find… this. An adorable towel elephant (the animals were different every night) and a delicious platter of treats. Our stomachs were full to the point of bursting.
But we ate it anyway. Most if it, that is. The rest made a fabulous breakfast. :)
Let me tell you that at this point we realized there was no chance you could ever go hungry on a cruise. Even in the middle of the night there were still options for food. We felt quite silly looking at our stash of emergency candy and granola bars (which is part of our typical travel packing list, you know, just in case you happen to be stuck somewhere when your stomach starts rumbling).
I don’t think we ate a single granola bar on the entire trip.
Food, glorious food.
The following night was perhaps the culinary highlight of the trip. Limited to only 12 people, the Chef’s Table is a 7-course feast for the eyes, nose, and stomach. But just as, if not more exciting than the food was the opportunity to tour the galley.
Let me tell you. I’m one to get stressed cooking for 10 people. This crew cooks for 3,350 people. On any given night, 14,000 plates will go out of this kitchen. That includes appetizers, entrees (oftentimes multiple entrees per person), and desserts for both the main dining rooms and the specialty restaurants.
I didn’t get to see the size of the dishwasher but I bet it is just as impressive.
As if the sheer size and scale of the galley wasn’t amazing enough, we were served a series of canapés that blew my mind.
Mango ‘sphere’ made from mango juice that’s been frozen and treated with some sort of algenate that keeps the juice inside, salmon tartare in a sesame cone, and some crazy chocolate butterscotch bacon concoction that, while it looks vaguely like a fishing lure, was like nothing I’d ever tasted before.
Chef de Cuisine Joaquim Dias oversees this entire operation, along with 2 sous chefs and 155 other chefs on board, while head pastry chef Madhu (pictured above) oversees a team of 18 to prepare all the amazing desserts that we enjoyed on our trip, including three different versions of tiramisu as well as Carnival’s famous Chocolate Melting Cake (there’s a reason it’s famous, it’s incredible!)
Once the galley tour was complete, we sat down at the Chef’s Table and began our epic meal. I would be hard-pressed to recall eating a better meal IN MY LIFE. It was that good. From the petite beet blankets (in spiced grape tea) to the crab stack (like a fresh crab cake), to the two-tomato, three-basil bisque (expertly poured to make a yin-yang of red and gold in each individual bowl), it was incredible from start to finish.
The remaining 3 nights we were free to dine on our own, to experience the main dining room or to return to one of the restaurants if we chose. Wanting to experience the classic cruise dining, we ventured into the main dining rooms where we were seated along the windows, looking out on the ship’s wake as we made our way from Belize to Honduras to Costa Maya, Mexico.
While a very different experience than the specialty restaurants, the main dining room was no less impressive. Every night there is a new menu with interesting dishes and specials for any taste. And no special request is ignored. The last night, still stuffed from 6 consecutive days of eating, I chose to order two appetizers instead of an entree, thinking a light dinner would be perfect for my bulging tummy. Little did I know that Andrew, our server, put a special request into the kitchens and returned with an entree-sized platter of crab cakes. He obviously thought that a single crab cake for dinner would leave me completely famished (did I mention that it is impossible to go hungry on this ship, even by choice?) Needless to say I appreciated the sincere thought.
This miso soup was from Bonsai Sushi (the 4th specialty restaurant on the ship) where we also ordered two amazing sushi boats (literally, wooden boats filled with delicious and unique sushi).
One observation: they definitely like interactive presentations on this ship. No fewer than six dishes over the course of the cruise were ‘poured’ right in front on me, including this miso soup as well as a cold cherry soup, grand marnier sauce over an orange souffle, and TWO soups at once (a red and yellow tomato soup) during the Chef’s Table dinner. My attempts at action shots were mostly futile, however.
Brunch was only an option on the two sea days, and the dining rooms overflowed with late sleepers and early risers ready for a second breakfast. The first sea day I ordered the most beautifully plated bagel and lox I’ve ever seen (and I swear I made my server nervous by ONLY ordering this ‘starter’ without an accompanying main course and/or dessert TOO).
The last day I ventured to the fun part of the menu, ordering the fruit loops french toast. How can you not smile at this? Sure, it was probably intended for 5 year olds, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. And enjoy I did.
Although this post is technically focused on the food, Taylor would not let me publish it without mentioning the waterslides. I swear, he’s secretly a 12-year-old.
I lost track of how many times he rode these things, surely more than any other kid on the entire boat. We’d return from ports early and while I’d relax in the room (and by ‘relax’ I mean I’d try to read but end up totally zonked out with my book on the floor), he’d don his swim shorts and ride the slides over and over and over again (no lines, obviously, because everyone else was still on shore).
I can’t even begin to describe the entire experience in a single post. I’ve touched on the highlights of what we ate and experienced here, but as far as what we drank, well, that deserves its own post entirely. You’ll just have to stay tuned for that post, coming soon (hint: there might be fire involved).
What. A. Trip. Definitely one I will remember for a long time. It was my first cruise, but I can definitively say it will not be my last.
Disclosure: Thank you to Carnival® for inviting us on this amazing cruise. As always, all opinions written are purely our own. We’re incredibly grateful for opportunities like these that allow us to continue sharing delicious experiences with you, so thank you for supporting us and the brands we love.
This was so well written, I love hearing people’s experience of their first cruise! I try to take my friends on their first cruise so that I can see their reaction to it. It’s such a beautiful experience. People think I’m crazy because I go once or twice a year lol
I’m a foodie and a faithful Carnival cruiser too! I love all that the ships offer. Most recently, we visited Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico and took the Scenic Tour and Foodie excursion and it was amazing!
I am SO happy Joanne pointed me to your review. I’m going on the same boat in a couple weeks and I have a much better sense of what’s coming now! I can’t wait to try all of these amazing restaurants. Your photos are so beautiful!
Omg…you totally just eased my mind about this ship. I have read several bad reviews and was a little skeptical bc we are going on our honeymoon in April. This makes me feel better so thank you. But do you think they did all of that bc they knew you were a critic? I am very excited
Love Carnival food and the service. What did you think about the Guy’s hamburgers.??? We will be going on a 2.0 ship just to try it out! Crazy, huh going on a cruise ship for the hamburgers.
Foodie for fun!
Now you see why we cruise so often. We love carnival and cruised on the Breeze around Europe 2 years ago. Similar fun ship 2.0 updates but brand new ship and double the size of the Sunshine. We can’t wait to try the sunshine! We loved Cucina del Capitano (back then it was only $12 pp but I would still pay $15 pp because the food is so good)! I still dream about the arancini! I’ve never had the chance to do the captains table experience but hope to try it in the future! So glad you guys had a blast. My husband also loves the slides and I know my son will eventually love them too. Can’t wait to read about your experience on land. Our favorite island is Roatan–it’s paradise!
Now you see why we cruise so o
First time visiting your lovely blog.
Wow, what a trip! You’re lucky to get the inside scoop of the galley. I was on the Norwegian Star last December and was very disappointed with their food. Carnival’s is much better. I speak the Hakka dialect and would be I’m curious as to what the Hakka-style noodle taste like – spicy, sweet, peanutty?
I’m located in Chattanooga. If you have a foodie or blogger’s get-together, let me know as I would to join in.
The fact that you ate the best meal(s) of your life, on a boat, with waterslides, and Fruit Loop French toast (totally want to re-create that for my daughter) and cocktails and sun and fun and chocolates on your pillow and lobster…ummm, can I go? :) Awesome post, recap and so glad the two of you got to enjoy this!!
Wow, sounds like an amazing trip! I went on a cruise years ago, and it looks like they have really improved the food options. Glad you had a great time!
It was so much fun to get to cruise with you and Taylor, Lindsay! The Carnival Sunshine had such an accommodating staff and WHOA that food!!
What a fun cruise! We cruised on the Sunshine last December (when it was in NOLA), and we had such a blast. I totally agree that the melting chocolate cake is AMAZING, and we’re actually trying the steakhouse (for the first time) on the Dream when we go in a couple of months. I just cannot wait!
Great post! I’ve been on three cruises and have loved them all. It took a long time to convince me to go on my first one, but so glad I did. The food is incredible. I know people are always saying there is an overabundance of food and overeating is inevitable. But I find there is always so much walking on the boat and at the ports, that it offsets the food! Hope you share more about the cruise.
Great recap! You certainly have persuaded this foodie to want to take a Carnival Cruise sometime soon. ????
That’s totally one glorious trip! Loving all the pics and the adventure you had. I went cruising years ago and really had a fun moment with Carnival.
It’s been a long time since I have been on a cruise. This looks like fun I will have to revisit the idea of a cruise again.
I just returned from a cruise on the Carnival Sunshine myself – different route. I, too, was blown away by the specialty restaurants. The filet at the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse was unbelieveable! and yes – I had the chocolate sampler too. The kung pao chicken at JiJi’s Asian Kitchen – one of the best I’ve ever had (that’s my chinese barometer dish). I wasn’t as impressed with the food in the main dining room, but to your point, imagine having to cook for so many! The warm chocolate melting cake more than made up for it. …… and I’m cracking up – I got the same response for only ordering the bagel and lox, so I added in a fruit plate too. Looks like you’ve caught the cruising bug !!
wow what amazing food and I can’t believe how many chefs!
I’m glad you enjoyed your cruise. Cruising is my favorite way to travel. I took my first cruise back in 1987 – the food on that one was not great – a 4-day Bahamas cruise on a tiny ship. Starting with my second one in 1988 I have to say that the food on cruise ships has generally been excellent. Maybe it’s because of my age, but I like the main dining room the best, especially when you have a fixed seating assignment, because you can get to know your servers, who are usually really great, interesting people. I did one cruise with all open seating a few years ago, on Norwegian, and I hated it. It felt very chaotic to me, and I don’t go on cruises to experience chaos… I also did not do well on the one Carnival cruise I went on, though the food and service were both excellent. The best food I’ve had has been on the World Cruise that Holland America Line does. They go all out for that.
You are 100 percent right about Holland America. They have the best
food, accommodations and their ships aren’t 6000 passenger
nightmares. We’ve been on several Carnival cruises and enjoyed them
all with the exception of the one in this article, the Carnival Sunshine. Our favorite Carnival ship is the Magic. I told my wife to NEVER
book us on the Sunshine again. My personal favorite line is
Holland America. It is like being in a first class hotel on the sea, and
the food is the best. The employees are top notch, also
What an amazing trip and look at all those incredible dishes! I had no idea cruise ship food could be so elegant! Great photos, Lindsay!
WOW. I certainly have to try this type of cruise!!!
Looks GREAT! But the overabundance of food (and assumptions that ‘more is better’ by the waiters) just confirms my preconceptions that cruises reinforce America’s propensity for gluttony! :(
What an amazing experience! I haven’t been on a cruise yet either (my first will be in January!), but I am feeling way more confident and excited about the food. Also–I totally would have been wondering who was doing stick inventory as well (are we the same person?).
Oh my goodness that food looks so good!
The food all looks just gorgeous! And that massive stack of chocolate ready for the chef – yum!
This looks amazing! All of my previous cruise-food preconceptions have just been blown out of the water.
OMG, fantastic pictures and your description is ages away from my own assumption, as you write:-)
Think I will reconsider a cruise now….
Great Post! Now I want to make half of what you described.