I came prepared not to like Carnival Sunshine. Any cruise line that uses the word ‘fun’ so often (or, even worse, ‘funnest’) and splashes a red starburst on its brochure cover to announce prices ‘from £199 a person’ sounds one to be avoided. It conjured up the worst of British holiday camps mixed with a dose of American schmaltz.
But from the moment I walked out on to the blazing sun-deck in Barcelona, my natural British chill began to thaw. Sure, there were dozens of people on sun loungers, plenty of flesh on show and children running around but – you know what? – they were enjoying themselves.
As I perched myself at the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar and ordered a cocktail, a troupe of flamenco dancers began a dazzling performance which was generously applauded. Then, when the DJ pumped up the volume, the less reticent passengers joined in with the staff-led dancing. Young children copied the moves in the small pool.
As you explore this 102,000-tonne ship, the more you warm to it. There is a big WaterWorks area, with a breath-taking 334ft Twister slide and twin Speedway Splash chutes that allow riders to race against each other. Children squeal as they are soaked by a 300-gallon drenching bucket.
By the Lido Pool, you can slap on the sun lotion and settle down to watch a film playing on a giant screen.
But it isn’t all loud noise and bright colours. At one end of the ship is a tranquil three-deck adults-only Serenity area, where couples can chill out on double sunbeds or in cosy ‘pods’ in peace while their children meet new friends at one of the clubs on board. And there’s always the sanctuary of the spa.
One of the things that surprised me about the ship was the elegance of some of the lounges, bars and restaurants, particularly the steakhouse, Fahrenheit 555 – where cuts of meat are paraded in a beauty contest before you choose which to eat – and the wonderful Asian restaurant, Ji Ji, where you are served dish after dish of delicious food.
And people do dress up. Considering Carnival has a relaxed dress code – with ‘cruise elegant’ the most formal category – I was impressed by some of the beautiful dresses and smart dinner suits on show.
Even the fast food is tempting, particularly the hand-made pizzas available 24 hours a day. Burgers sizzle on hot plates by the pool, with a toppings bar nearby. You can serve yourself ice cream or frozen yoghurt. Breakfast is available until noon. And, if you want to wear that lot off, there is a sports square, jogging track and a gym.
Among the many places to drink is the Alchemy Bar, where staff dress in lab coats and you can concoct your own cocktail using a prescription pad. There’s also the themed Havana Bar, EA Sports bar – with an array of video screens – and the Red Frog Pub for a pint of draught beer. Or you can have a singalong in the Piano Bar, laugh along at the Punchliner comedy club or relax in the Library Bar.
With its £100million refit this year from the former Destiny, Carnival aimed to create new areas to spread the 3,000 passengers out so it didn’t appear crowded. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many sun loungers on a ship – there seemed to be space for everyone. Finding a seat at a bar didn’t seem difficult either.
Considering there were a lot of Brits on board, I didn’t witness any drunkenness or bad behaviour. The well-mannered children seemed genuinely delighted to be there.
By the end of the first evening, my wife Mandy and I were dancing along to a DJ in the Red Frog Pub and were even dragged – almost literally – laughing into a conga, not an experience we would have foreseen 24 hours before.
Three days later, when it came to leave, they almost had to pull us off the ship. Oh – by the way – in the meantime we had sailed from Barcelona to the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome, via Marseille in France and Livorno in Italy – but it could have been anywhere warm and sunny.
Other passengers had taken trips to Cassis, Florence or Pisa but we decided to stay on board, tired from the late nights and desperate not to miss out on anything on our short trip.
Our cabin on board Sunshine was ‘compact’ – no bedside tables but a good shower and wardrobes and we had a little balcony. But there’s so much to see and do on this ship, you don’t want to do much in your own room apart from catch up on sleep or change into, or out of, your swimming gear.
I’m pleased I overcame my cynicism and reticence to try out Carnival. A dose of Sunshine is just what families with young children need on holiday.
Even travelling as a couple, we had a fun time. In fact, it was probably our funnest cruise ever.
For my metro.co.uk video report, please click here
For more pictures of Carnival Sunshine, click here.