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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ypsilanti, Michigan / Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest


February 2014, Sunday night, Free night certificate, King concierge guestroom #827

Arrival and Platinum member perks

We arrived at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Marriott before check in time, and the front desk agent said that our room was not ready yet. She said that she could assign me another guestroom, if I wanted. I asked if the two rooms were the same, and she said that the room that was not ready yet was a king corner guestroom on the executive floor, and that the one available was near the elevator. Since corner guestrooms are usually nicer, I said that I would be happy to wait for that room.  

We sat down in the lobby by the fireplace to wait, and I received a call when the guestroom was ready about an hour later. I also received the standard Platinum bonus points. Both of the employees I spoke with were sincere, helpful, and accommodating.

Sunrise from guestroom

Guestroom 827

This guestroom is located at the end of the hall on the top floor. The view faces the golf course and lake, and we had a fabulous view of the sunrise in the morning. The guestroom was clean, comfortable, spacious, and well-soundproofed. The Internet connection speed was good, especially considering the hotel was quite full the night of our stay.

The tile/marble bathroom near the entrance contained a tub/shower combination with a shower curtain on a curved rod. The towels were good quality.



The vanity was located outside of the bathing area, and a closet with mirrored doors was located across from the vanity. Bathing amenities were provided on the vanity, and a hairdryer was mounted on the wall.


The closet contained extra bedding, hangers, a folding luggage rack, and a plush bathrobe.


A full length mirror was mounted on the wall outside of the bathroom.



The bedroom area contained a king size bed, and two nightstands with a lighted clock and a telephone. Lamps, and small adjustable reading lights were mounted on the headboard of the bed.

A sofa, coffee table, and a floor lamp were located next to the bed. I missed not having an end table for my beverage when seated on the couch. 

A desk and chair, and a flatscreen TV on an armoire were located across from the bed and sofa. A single-serve coffeemaker with supplies, a small fridge, an ice bucket, two glass glasses, and a bottle of water were located inside the cabinet under the TV. Two packets of regular coffee, tea bags, and liquid creamer had been provided with the supplies.

I have refrigerator and extra pillows on my Marriott profile, so I thought maybe the fridge had been added to the guestroom; however, the hotel website has refrigerator listed as an amenity in concierge guestrooms. There was also an extra pillow on the bed. I love it when hotel staff actually reads my profile and special requests! This seems like such a simple thing to make guests happy, yet I am amazed at the number of times that hotel employees do not know anything about my desires or requests.

The bed was extremely comfortable, and the bedding and pillow quality was superb. Even though this guestroom was well-soundproofed, we could hear some kind of noise from outside of the guestroom behind the bathroom area. It was a constant droning noise, and did not really bother us. It must have been from something running inside the hotel, although I do not know what. Constant noises like that do not usually bother me. I tend to be disturbed more by guest chatter and the opening and closing of doors, which was not a problem in this guestroom.

Concierge lounge

The concierge lounge was open Sunday evening, and on Monday morning. I did not try my key outside of open times, so I am not sure if the lounge was accessible for water or other items during non-open hours. I did notice that the hotel went through a considerable amount of bottled water, due in part to guests taking advantage of the amenities. We observed some guests inserting their key in the elevator to let other guests have access to the 8th floor, and we observed several guests take many bottles of water from the lounge. I sometimes take a bottle of water with me after breakfast or in the evening, but not six or more! Two guests in the elevator from the 7th floor had four bottles of water from the lounge visible in their carry-ons the morning that we all checked out. The 8th floor guestrooms did not seem to be filled, and many of the guests that we observed in the concierge lounge were not staying on the 8th floor. I know that sometimes guests from other floors are given access to the lounge. I understand why some hotels, like the Chicago-Schaumburg Marriott, limit the number of bottles of water guests can take from the concierge lounge.

View from concierge lounge
The sunset view from the lounge was fabulous! The service was excellent in the evening and in the morning. The seats were comfortable, and the TVs were set at a pleasant volume, although I thought the room temperature was kind of cool.


Evening food items included pasta salad, four fresh vegetables (carrots, celery, red peppers, and broccoli) and dip, two flavors of cheese cubes  (cheddar and spicy), small pieces of buffalo chicken pizza, potato pancakes, and sliced bread. The pasta salad contained fresh ingredients, although the flavor was kind of bland. The vegetables were fresh, and the dip had excellent flavor. The pizza had good flavor, although the chicken was kind of tough. The potato pieces had good flavor with a bit of cream and bacon flavor inside. A refrigerated cooler contained sodas, water, milk, juices, and yogurt. We were surprised and delighted to see Coke products available.

Breakfast in the morning included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, three different breads, cold cereal, oatmeal with toppings, fresh fruit, and pastries. The cooler contained the same products as it had in the evening. I observed cream cheese with the condiments; however, I did not see any bagels. A staff member was restocking food items when we departed, which may have included bagels. All of the food items I tried had good flavor. I almost did not try the scrambled eggs because they looked like they had been out since the lounge had opened at 6:00 a.m., and it was after 8:00. I was glad I tried the eggs, because they were very good. The bacon had good flavor, the oatmeal was fresh, and the fresh fruit was superb. 

Pool area

The pool area is located on the lower level, and it was accessible from the elevator without having to walk through the main lobby. The area was warm; however, we did not end up using the whirlpool tub since the pool area was very busy. There was some kind of hockey tournament going on during our stay, and there were many children and adults in the hotel.

Fitness center

We visited the spacious fitness center, although we did not use any of the equipment. The cardio machines were set up to look out the windows over the golf course. Fresh apples, newspapers, and a map of a walking trail were available. The trail map said that the trail is one mile long, and that it goes around the lake behind the hotel. 

Lobby and sitting areas

There were many public sitting areas in this hotel. The seats by the two fireplaces in the lobby were comfortable. Seats and tables were available between the lounge dining area and the elevators. More chairs were available in the hallways by the ballrooms.




It looked like there is also a nice outside area at this hotel when it is not so cold and snowy out. We observed a gazebo type wooden structure out back and a covered grill.





Misc. and overall

We thought this was a great hotel, and we would definitely choose it again. It is well maintained, and all of the staff members provided excellent service. We felt like everyone was genuinely interested in meeting our needs.

This hotel is easily accessible from Interstate 94. There were a couple of restaurants across Huron Street from the hotel: BWW, McDonalds, and Rio Wraps.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Grand Rapids, Michigan - GRR airport / Crowne Plaza

January 2014, Weekday, King guestroom #384 (#439 below)


I have stayed in the Crowne Plaza Grand Rapids - Airport hotel several times, since it is located at my home airport. It is not as nice as some of the Crowne Plaza hotels I have stayed in, although it is one of the better airport hotels in GRR for the price, and the shuttle service is dependable.

If you have any questions about this property, please ask! Here are links to some of my previous stays: December 2011May 2011, August 2010

Status perks and check-in

I received access to the club lounge, although I did not receive a guestroom on the top floor. When I asked about this, the agent said that there were not any guestrooms available on the top floor. This hotel was not very full at the time of our stay (it is usually less than half full every time I have stayed here), so I am not sure why she said this. It did not really matter much, since I did not recall the club floor guestrooms having any better amenities than the standard guestrooms. One reason I prefer the top club floor, is because I often hear guests overhead when staying in hotels. I did not experience that in this hotel.

Since the club lounge had not been open during most of my stays in this hotel, I asked if the lounge would be open in the evening. The agent did not know, and after she checked with someone else, both employees said yes, although the times they provided were incorrect. The agent did not recognize my status, and she did not actually tell me I would have access to the lounge. This was implied after I inquired about the club floor and lounge when she provided my key packet.

I have never had the same employee check me in when I arrive in the afternoon or evening, so I suppose that accounts for the inconsistency at check-in. When I depart for the airport early in the morning, the same male employee that has been at this hotel for years is usually working. I like it when I see a familiar face at locations I frequent, because that makes me more comfortable with the business' character.

Guestroom 384

This guestroom is on the third floor, and the balcony faces the back courtyard. It has a connecting room door, which I was initially worried about. The guestroom next to us must have been empty, or the guest was very quiet, because we did not hear any noise next door. There were extremely loud guests in a guestroom down the hall, and we could hear their TV blaring every time we left the room. Fortunately, this was far enough away from our guestroom.

The bed was comfortable, and we were happy that this guestroom had a couch instead on one chair. There were not very many outlets in the guestroom. I had to unplug one of the lamps on the nightstand, in order to plug in my cell phone when we went to bed. I could have plugged in my phone on the desk; however, I wanted it next to the bed since we were using the alarm feature for an early morning flight the next day.

The bathroom vanity where the coffee was provided was not very spacious. A single-serve coffeemaker and supplies were provided, and the coffee quality was good. I brought liquid creamer from the club lounge back to the room for my coffee in the morning.





Pool

There was not anyone in the pool area when we used it that evening. The water was warm, and there are plenty of seats in this area. There were lounge chairs around the pool, and one table with chairs between the whirlpool tub and the pool. Additional tables and chairs were located on a level a few steps up. 

The pool is an indoor/outdoor pool, and we have stayed at this hotel in the summer when the outside area is open, although the tiki hut has never been open during any of our stays.

Club lounge

There were only two other guests in the lounge when we visited, and there were not any guests in the lounge when I returned to get liquid creamer for the guestroom coffee.

Each guest was allowed one complimentary alcoholic beverage. Domestic beer, and red and white wine was offered. Food items included chicken BBQ with buns, fresh vegetables and dip, and dessert. We were gone from the hotel before the lounge was open for breakfast.  

August 2013, Sunday night, King club floor guestroom 439 [possibly]

I stayed at this hotel in August 2013, and I did not have time to write up a review after that stay. I have a few photos of the guestroom, so I am sharing them below. I am not certain if the photos are of guestroom 439 or 472. The room number written on my packet says 472; however, the room number on my bill is 439. The guestroom is not marked on the guestroom diagram photo that I took, so I added arrows pointing to both guestrooms. I tend to think that I was in guestroom 439, because guestroom 472 looks like the balcony would be very close to another room or the outside of the building, and I do not recall ever being that close to another guestroom.

Club floor guestroom
Some of the king guestrooms in this hotel have a sofa, and some have just one chair. I have not been able to figure out how the chairs and sofas are allocated to which guestrooms.

The vanity in this club floor guestroom had a little more space than the one in guestroom 384. Bathroom amenities included a small bottle of Scope, and a vanity kit, which were not provided in the standard guestroom.






Club floor guestroom







Club floor guestroom


I had taken a photo of the key packet because the club lounge times that were written on the key packet were incorrect. Both times that the front desk agent provided the lounge times, I was told that it opens in the evening at 6 p.m., and it did not open until 6:30 p.m. 







Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kenner, Louisiana / Hilton New Orleans airport (MSY)

February 2014, Sunday night, 1-night, King guestroom #656


Status perks and check-in
We arrived at the New Orleans airport Hilton in the morning after our Carnival Sunshine cruise. The agent said that there is a $25 charge to check-in early. I expressed surprise, since the last Hilton I had stayed in, the Palmer House Hilton, does not charge Gold status guests this fee. I asked if we should come back to the front desk after noon, or when. She said that check-in time is 3:00 p.m. She then asked if we were going to go someplace, and I said that we had planned to just hang out at the hotel until our flight home the next day. After a brief pause, she said that she would go ahead and check me in. The agent also provided two bottles of water, and an Internet access code for complimentary Internet.

Guestroom
Guestroom 656 is located on the top floor near the end of the hall. It faces away from the airport and overlooks the back roof and parking lot. The guestroom was a decent size, and it was well soundproofed.

The large closet at the entrance contained a safe, hangers, extra bedding, and a folding luggage rack.

Coffee supplies, which included individual pods and liquid creamer, and a microwave, were on a small table next to the closet. The coffee maker was a single-serve type machine, which could brew one or two cups as a time. I like that Hilton properties (including DoubleTree and Hilton Garden Inn) usually always have this type of setup for coffee outside of the bathroom.

The bathroom across from the closet was not very large, although it was sufficient. Bath amenities, a hairdryer, and good quality towels were provided. The bath amenities by Peter Thomas Roth included shampoo, conditioner, lotion, a grooming kit, facial soap, and a massaging bath bar. 


The shower was a tub/shower combination with a shower curtain on a curved rod.


The bedroom area contained a king size bed, nightstands, flatscreen TV on an armoire, desk and chair, a lounge type soft chair, and one end table. There were lamps on the desk and nightstands. An alarm clock was located on one of the nightstands, and a steel ice bucket and glass glasses were provided on the end table.

The HVAC unit could be turned off, which I always like overnight. The bed and pillows were very comfortable, although I thought the guestroom needed to be remodeled. 

The carpet and furnishings in the guestroom looked tired and smelled stale. In fact, the room had such a stagnant smell, that I called housekeeping a few hours after we had arrived to ask if they had some room freshener they could spray. An employee arrived within a few minutes and sprayed something in a couple of corners of the guestroom. I do not know what kind of spray was used, although it must have been very strong. The guestroom immediately smelled better, and she only sprayed about three or four small squirts. The employee was professional, and she understood why I had called. She said that if the spray did not help, to let her know, and they would assign us a new room. The fresh scent did wear off after a while; however, the guestroom smell was not unbearable, so I did not request a different guestroom.

room 656

I did not take a photo of the guestroom diagram on the door, because the guestroom sizes shown were not accurate. The diagram showed all of the guestrooms as the same size, and there is a large lounge type room across from the elevator on this floor, as well as an executive suite around the corner. The large room looked like an executive lounge; however, the hotel website does not offer executive rooms or an executive lounge. The door to the large room room was open in the morning, and there was one person seated inside. I did not observe any amenities set out. I suppose that the room could have been an executive lounge with limited hours.

Food & Beverages
We visited the hotel lobby lounge, Second Line Sports Edition, twice. Once for beverages shortly after check-in, and later for something to eat. The sign in front of the lounge said to ask about the daily specials, so we did. Both times, we were told that the lounge does not offer any specials. We asked again the second time, because we had only ordered beverages during our first visit, and we thought maybe the sign was for food specials. Our food server told us that the sign is old, and that they have not offered anything that is not on the menu for a long time.

The menu item pricing was somewhat inflated, as is the case at many airport hotels. The least expensive glass of red wine on the menu was $9. I had expected the cost to be similar to the cruise ship pricing, and I was surprised that it was more. I ended up ordering a Bloody Mary without knowing the cost. We were pleasantly surprised when we got the bill, and it was less than a glass of wine. The flavor was good. The men with me both had draft beers, which they were happy with as well.

My husband and I ordered the turkey wrap with fries to split the second time that we visited. The price for this item was a bit over $12. The portion size was generous, and the flavor was good. The service was excellent during our meal, and we did not have any complaints about the service earlier in the day.

There are two chain restaurants near this hotel. Subway is located in the Shell gas station next door, and we had breakfast there. The food was fresh, and the service was excellent. IHOP is located in the Days Inn on the other side of the Hilton. There is a parking lot between the Hilton and the IHOP, which looked like it might have been offsite airport parking. I did not see a sidewalk on the side of the road; however, there is room on the shoulder of the road, and the distance is very close. 

Pool area
This hotel had a decent outside pool sitting area. There were loungers, tables with seats, and a gazebo. When we had decided to stay an extra night after our cruise, we had hoped we'd have one last day of warmth to enjoy before heading back to cold Michigan. Unfortunately, mother nature did not cooperate, and it was a rainy, cool, and dreary day. We thought we might still use the hot tub; however, we changed our minds after looking at the tub. The tub looked neglected, and in need of cleaning.

Fitness center
The fitness center located next to the pool contained several cardio machines, a water cooler, and restrooms. We did not use the fitness center, and I am sure that there were more included items than what I have listed. We only walked through the fitness center to get to the pool, and to look for a scale. We initially thought there was not a scale in the fitness center; however, my husband said that there was one in the Men's restroom.

Business center
We observed one computer and a printer around the corner from the lobby, which did not work. There were at least two computers and a printer in the lobby by the front desk; however, the printer was not working at the time of our stay. The front desk agent told me to use the computer behind the bell stand to print our boarding passes.

Shuttle and misc.
The airport shuttle service was on demand, and it was very quick. This hotel is located across from the airport, and it only took a couple of minutes to get there. Our son took the shuttle a few hours after we had checked in, and we took it the next day. 

This hotel has several meeting rooms and ballrooms. There were sitting areas inside the hotel and in the courtyard. It looked like this had been a grand hotel at one time, although it looked tired at the time of our stay. The public areas looked like they needed to be refurbished, just like our guestroom. 

I overheard the front desk agents talking with other guests on the telephone about the $25 early check-in charge. We got a great rate on our hotel room, and the hotel must make a good portion of it's income with the early check-in charge. Just be aware of this, if you are arriving our departing outside of normal check-in and checkout times. Hotel parking is complimentary.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Carnival Sunshine Cruise ~ 7-day Exotic Western Caribbean January/February 2014



Pre-cruise


Our son had given us dinner in the steakhouse for Christmas this year, and we wanted to go the first evening because a bottle of wine is included the first evening. A few weeks before our cruise, I made the reservation online. The computer screen showed that my transmission had been successfully sent; however, I never received an email confirmation. I searched for information about steakhouse reservations online, and some guests said that they had been contacted prior to their cruise, and some said that they got their reservation details after they boarded (these comments were not specific to the Sunshine). I decided to call Carnival a few days before our cruise to make sure our reservation had been received. The person I spoke with did not say whether she could check into this; she merely said that our reservation would be confirmed during check-in.

Arrival and Check-in ~ Port of New Orleans

We walked to the cruise port because our hotel, the Astor Crowne Plaza, was only a little over a half mile away. This did not end up being as easy as we anticipated. My husband and I had gone for a walk to the cruise port that morning, and we chatted with two female travelers who were pulling their luggage. They told us that they had just gotten off the Carnival Sunshine, and that they had walked out from the ship. They pointed to the corner across the parking lot, which they said was the cruise port entrance. There was a sign at the entrance into the parking lot from the sidewalk that said, "Pedestrian Entrance," so we did not walk any further. We expected there to be a pedestrian walkway after we entered, and we returned to our hotel to finish getting ready.
from Serenity deck

When we were headed toward the cruise port with our luggage around 10:30 a.m., we passed a few more travelers pulling their luggage headed in the opposite direction. After we went though the pedestrian entrance, we saw that the parking lot was uneven, and that there was not a pedestrian walkway through the lot. Since we did not think we had much farther to go, we continued on. We found the cruise port entrance in the corner exactly where we expected it; however, the cruise port was not pedestrian friendly. I have entered many cruise ports before--on foot and in a vehicle. This is the first time I have ever walked right into a port without a manned entrance, and without having to show ID. We were never asked for any identification, nor did anyone inquire about our destination as we made our way to the cruise ship.
cruise port view from our balcony
cabin 6363

We observed many people walking along the edge of the road inside the port, even though there were signs that said, "No Pedestrians." Since I did not observe any cruise ship signage, I asked an officer in the area how to get to the Sunshine, and he gestured toward the road leading to the south end of the port. I asked him if it was okay to walk through that way with our luggage (after all, the signs did say, "No Pedestrians"!), and he said yes.    

Pontchatrain expressway
from cruise ship
We walked along the edge of Port of New Orleans Place from Julia Street with our luggage. The cab area in front of the Carnival Sunshine was very chaotic when we arrived, and we were not sure where to leave our luggage. An officer in this area said that we were in the correct spot to leave our luggage; however, we did not feel assured that this was accurate. Most of the passengers that we saw were departing, and we did not see any Carnival representatives or porters. We walked farther down in front of the building until we found a Carnival representative. After this person confirmed that the first information we had been given was correct, we returned to the taxi drop off area, and waited with our luggage until we saw a porter arrive. When we disembarked a week later shortly after 8 a.m, I observed a sign in this area for Diamond and Platinum guests to drop off their luggage. I wish the sign had been there when we arrived!

If you click on the photos that I loaded in this section to enlarge them, you can see that I labeled some of the areas of our route. The walk was not much more than a mile total from our hotel; however, since the trek was non-pedestrian friendly and it was chaotic, it was quite confusing!            

Our check-in experience was not much smoother after we entered the terminal. We showed our VIP/Priority Boarding Pass to someone who directed us to a line on the right, which I did not think was the Priority Line. I asked him if that was the VIP line, and he said yes. After we wove our way around and through the photo area, I saw even more clearly that the entrance on the left looked like the VIP line. I asked the next representative, who also tried to herd us to the right, if we were in the VIP line, and she said no. Our color printed boarding pass clearly said VIP/Priority on it! We had a similar experience when we boarded out of Port Everglades on the Miracle in 2012. I find it difficult to understand how the representatives who are directing guests cannot easily see "VIP" on the document. And, I specifically asked about the VIP line.

Once we got into the correct line, security screening went very quickly, and officials did not bat an eye at the three bottles of wine (there were three of us), or the couple of sodas that we brought on board. When we were waiting to board after check-in, I was surprised to see many guests enter with cases of water and/or tea. The Carnival website saysGuests may bring a small quantity (package of 12 per person) of non-alcoholic beverages. I assume that the guests with cases were carrying beverages for two people.

We continued to the VIP check-in area after security, and our son headed to the standard check-in area. VIP guests at this cruise port are not escorted from the waiting room when it is time to board, and the VIP room is not adjacent to the boarding entrance, so no one was seated in the VIP room waiting. We were told that we could meet our son in the outside waiting area after we got checked in, and then we could all board together. Even though our son had to walk across the room to check-in, he was finished before us. The agent told us that he was already checked in when she took our photographs during check-in. I inquired about our steakhouse reservation after we were given our cards, and the agent said we needed to check that on board.

We were all three sitting in the waiting area and ready to board about 11:45 a.m. We were told that a wedding party was going to board first, and then VIP guests. Shortly after this, a representative announced over the intercom that the card reader machine in the port was not connecting to the onboard machine, and they were trying to fix it. About 45 minutes later, we were advised that the problem could not be fixed, so the card reader was going to be moved onboard. The representative had provided regular updates during our wait time. It was quite difficult for us to get to the boarding gate, when VIP guests were called after the wedding party, because many people were standing in the aisle ways, who were not boarding. It reminded me of trying to board an airplane, only worse, since the ship carries more passengers than an airplane.

I forgot to look at a clock when we first boarded; however, I think it was around 1 p.m. The first photo that I took on serenity deck was at 1:40 p.m. After we boarded, we went to Red Frog Pub (we were the second guests to arrive; the first guests had not even taken a sip of their beers or had their photo taken yet), we dropped our bags in the cabin, and we had lunch before I took the photo. The lunch lines were not busy, so I do not think it could have been much more than half an hour before I took the first picture.

Balcony cabin 6363, category 8A

Our cabin was accessible when we boarded and dropped off our bags before going for lunch. We chose this room for the large balcony, and the balcony was fabulous. For this route though, a balcony on the port side would have better views of the river and the other ships. The balcony contained two chairs, one lounge chair, and a small table.

The cabin was spacious with a lot of storage. There was a tall closet with hooks inside next to the bathroom, as well as four tall closets in the entrance hall. The closets in the entrance hall contained a safe, life jackets, shelves, and hangers. We have sometimes had a full-length mirror on the inside of the closet door; however, there was not a full length mirror in this cabin.
tall closet next to bathroom

More drawers were located in the vanity area, and a hairdryer was in the top drawer. This cabin did not have a mini-bar. Since every Carnival cruise we have been on has had a mini-bar, and there had been one in our room when we were on this ship when it was the Destiny, we had not noticed before our cruise that these had been removed when the ship was refurbished. Be sure and read the amenities listed for the cabin you are booking, if a mini-bar is important.

Fortunately, our room steward agreed to bring us a few mini-bar items. Initially, I called the extension on our Platinum papers to request the items, and I was told to call room service. When I called room service, they did not have what I wanted, and when I first asked our steward, he said he could not get us mini-bar items. I explained to him that what I wanted is only available through the mini-bar, and I told him that room stewards had gotten me the items before. He then said that he would check for me. After he called his supervisor, he said that he could get what I wanted, and that he would deliver it the next afternoon. As our son politely said to us later, "Let me see. You want to know if you can have something to put in a guest's room that they are going to pay us for? Uhm…yes!" He has such an eloquent and matter-of-fact way of stating things.

I wanted Korbel splits in our room, since Korbel is no longer sold by the glass in the bars. I had two 750 ml bottles that we had brought onboard; however, I like the small ones when we are not going to consume the entire bottle because they are fresher. Our room steward delivered four Korbel splits and some diet Coke the next afternoon.  The soda options available through the mini-bar, room service, and in the bars are all the same. Since we were having the Korbel delivered to our room, we figured we might as well get a few sodas at the same time. We ordered an ice bucket with ice from room service with breakfast the next morning, and our steward kept it filled for us.

This stateroom has one of the largest showers that we have had on a cruise ship. The shower contained the same cleansing dispensers that we have seen on other Carnival ships with shower gel and shampoo. Bar soap was provided on the vanity, and two tubes of sample size toothpaste were also provided.
There was some kind of black residue in the toilet when we arrived. Throughout the week, we noticed this just about everyday, and then it must have been scrubbed out by our steward each day. I did not think much about the residue at the time, and I did not take a picture of the inside of the toilet. We all got sick right after debarkation, and then I read posts from many other passengers who got sick on this ship--some the week that we had cruised, and some during prior weeks. One person talked about the black residue, and others talked about mold on the ship. I researched mold symptoms after I read the posts, and I do not think our symptoms were from mold. We all had cold symptoms, although this was unusual for us, since we rarely ever get sick, and we are diligent about hand washing and such.

This stateroom had a shower problem. After our cruise, I read about other staterooms that had water problems, although I did not read about any problems that were the same as what we experienced. The floor inside of our shower sloped downward away from the drain, so that water drained away from the drain. Because of this, we had to shower in standing water everyday! I tried to slosh the water toward the drain with my foot, which did not make any difference. I assume that our room steward must have had to squeegee the water down the drain everyday. I took photos of the standing water, which is visible when zoomed in. The water was not real deep, although I still do not like standing in water while showering.
shower stall floor full of water 

Our son, and some other guests on this cruise, had a problem with water coming back up through the drain in the bathroom floor. I also read reviews from guests on previous cruises who had this same problem; some who had so much water come up through the drain that it flowed out of the bathroom. It appears that there is some type of plumbing problem on this ship.


There was one more thing about this stateroom that left us unhappy. We are non-smokers, and after carefully choosing this stateroom a year in advance for the balcony, we were not able to use our balcony because we were sandwiched between two cabins with smoking guests. We have had balcony cabins before when there has been a smoker nearby; however, it was never as miserable as it was on this cruise. The guests in the cabin next door chain-smoked 24/7. We could not open our balcony door without being engulfed by fumes, let alone sit out there. They must have been smoking in their cabin too, because our hallway was often smoke filled. Fortunately, the fumes did not enter our cabin (other than when we opened the balcony door).  It was bad enough to make us rethink our next cruise plans.

Our room steward was friendly, and the service was good, although there were a few minor inconsistencies. The first three days, or balcony door had been left unlocked every time that we returned after service. It was even unlocked the day that the balconies were being washed, and we had received letters telling us to make sure and keep our doors locked. We never left anything valuable out, so we did not say anything about this. Two days, we did not receive a Fun Times, and we had to get one from Guest Services.

Food & Beverage

There are a lot of dining options on the Carnival Sunshine. We did not try anything at the Lido buffet, and we ran out of days to try all of the other restaurants.

Steakhouse appetizer
Ahi Tuna Tartare
There was not any information about our steakhouse reservation in our cabin after we boarded, so about an hour later, I called the steakhouse to ask about our reservation. They did not have a reservation for us, although they did have time available, so I made a reservation for 6:45 p.m.

Steakhouse entree
Lobster and Filet Mignon
This gift from our son was our first Steakhouse experience. The service and food were both excellent. The lobster was the best we have ever had. The filet mignon was good, although it was not as good as I expected. I did not think it tasted as good as the aged steaks at The Chop House. The complimentary bottle of Santa Carolina red wine was good, and the Chocolate Sampler dessert was delicious.

Our only disappointment with the steakhouse is the location on this ship. It is located on the 4th floor, rather than the top floor with a view out the windows, like it is on many of the other ships.

Cucina del Capitano and Ji Ji Asian Kitchen are located at the back of the ship by the Havana Bar where there were always plenty of seats available. Both of these restaurants have a charge for dinner, and they offer a complimentary limited lunch menu. We had lunch at Ji Ji's the day that we boarded, and it was similar to the Mongolian Wok. The Cucina del Capitano lunch menu was the same concept as we have seen on other Carnival ships; pasta dishes to order and Caesar salad. We had planned to have lunch there one day; however, we overindulged at Bonsai Sushi!


Bonsai Sushi was only open for lunch on sea days. We wanted to dine there when we were in Cozumel because we did not have an excursion planned in that port. After we noticed that it was not open for lunch on the port days, I asked at Guest Services if it would be open for lunch on our last sea day, and I was told no. I had hoped that the staff member I had spoken with was wrong (she even walked away to check with someone before she answered me), and she was--yay!

Ship for 2
We had the Ship for 2, which was good, although not superb. Friends we met when we were on the Carnival Breeze had told us that the sushi was the best they ever had. Although it was good, we thought that the sushi we had at Sandals Halcyon Beach was better. The portion size was generous. If we had realized it was going to be so much food, we would not have also ordered the Spicy Tuna Roll. Our son said the sake was good quality. I am no sake expect, so I am taking his word on that!

We all liked the BlueIguana Cantina--the breakfast burritos, shrimp burritos, pork tacos, and more. I am not usually a pizza fan, and I loved the 24-hour pizzeria--Pizzeria del Capitano. I thought the prosciutto pizza with fresh arugula was the best! There were also two breakfast pizza options, and the service was excellent. My husband and our son both liked the burgers at Guy's Burger Joint, although I did not think they were as good as usual. I thought maybe the first one I had was not fresh since I had it when it was late afternoon after we had arrived back on the ship during a port day, so I tried one again later. The second burger I had tasted the same as the first. The Sandwich/Deli counter inside the Lido buffet area was very good, and the service was excellent.
Seaday Brunch


The Seaday Brunch menu was very good. It opened at 8:30 a.m. on sea days. I recommend the huevos rancheros! My husband liked the steak-n-eggs, which I thought was just "okay." This is a photo of the flamin' tomatoes soup. The dining room was open for breakfast with the basic breakfast menu on port days, and on the last morning. 

Menu items were not served or prepared consistently. I had the huevos rancheros twice, and one time my eggs had been cooked over medium, and the other time the yolks were not as done. I received two condiment sides both times that I ordered this, and our son received three condiment sides the day that he ordered the huevos rancheros. When I had the steak-n-eggs, I received curly fries with my order, and my husband did not receive these with his steak-n-eggs (ordered on different days). My husband ordered his eggs over easy one day, and received them sunny-side up. The food quality was good, and the items were fresh.

The Taste Bar was open most days from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The service and menu items were excellent. I also observed self-serve breakfast items in this area two mornings when I walked by, although I did not see this information published anywhere. We were assigned to the Sunset Forward Dining Room for dinner, which was kind of disappointing. We had a great service team, and the food was excellent; however, we would have preferred a table in the beautiful Sunrise Dining Room instead.

We had room service a couple of times. The food was always excellent, and the service was timely, except for the last morning. We had filled out the morning door hanger for breakfast delivery between 6:45 and 7 a.m. When our food had not arrived by 7 a.m., I called to make sure our order had been received. The person I spoke with apologized for the delay and said that it was on the way. Our order arrived over 10 minutes later. Other food venues on the Sunshine, which we did not try in addition to Lido buffet were Seadogs, Chef's Table, Java Blue Cafe, and Shake Spot.
Beverage Service Specials

This is the first Carnival ship we have been on that did not offer morning Bloody Mary and mimosa specials on sea days. All of the bar menus were different, so if we found something we liked in one bar, we had to remember the name at some of the other bars. One of the servers in the showroom kept the menu from the Ocean Plaza in his pocket, which I liked because that menu had the different wines and prices on it. There were different beverage specials each day, which were printed in the Fun Times and in the bar where it was on special.

This ship had self-dispensing beer taps by the Lido buffet, like the wine dispensers in the Library Bar.

Pools and outside areas

We loved the serenity decks. There were many loungers, seats, covered beds, and hammocks. We were able to get a covered lounger a couple of times, although the ones in prime locations were always taken early in the morning. On our last sea day, we did not go to serenity deck until around 10 a.m. There were exactly two open loungers at that time, which we were able to move together and use.

The water in the whirlpool tub on serenity deck was warm, and the tub was large; however, since it was the only tub on all three decks, it was always full. The pool with the waterfall was pretty cool looking. We liked that the serenity decks are non-smoking. We did see a couple of people walk through who were smoking, but that was it. There was not a guard at the serenity entrance, like we have seen on some ships. There was never a problem with children in the area. There did not seem to be many children on the ship.

Serenity Pool



The water slides were great. We went down the twister (yellow slide) and the fast slides (blue and green ones). The fast slides were very quick. The twister lasted longer, so it made the hike up a bit more worthwhile. I did not like the fact that it went in and out darkness though. I like to see what is going on! The wicker seats in this area were comfortable.

The sports court on decks 11 and 12 contained the following: jogging track, miniature golf, ping pong table, basketball, fuse ball table,  pool table, shuffleboard, twister game, chess game, and sky course. Seadogs was located on deck 11, and there were seats and tables nearby. We did not have any problem with the availability of equipment or games during the week; however, on the last sea day this area was very full.




We did not hang out by the Beach (main) Pool. The activities at the main pool were also visible from the two lower levels of serenity deck. On one of our port days, someone had made several towel animals in the main pool area.
Beach Pool







Activity times posted in the Fun Times were not always correct. One example was the big screen movie times January 31st. One area listed James Brown at 1:30 p.m. followed by U-2. Another area listed James Brown at 2:00 with no mention of U-2. I uploaded a few Fun Times to this blog, and on my Facebook page, which you should be able to read, if you zoom in.













Entertainment and lounges

This is the first Carnival cruise ship we have been on that did not have a dance floor in the Atrium (lobby) Bar. This is often a place where guests gather before dinner or the shows, and it was not setup well for that purpose. Some of the seats in this lounge were located underneath where the musician played, so guests seated there could not see the performer. I was surprised that bar stool seats and a bar ledge had not been added on the upper atrium levels when they refurbished this ship, like the seats that are on the Breeze.
Atrium Bar

Ocean Plaza is where the bands usually played. Alchemy Bar is located next to Ocean Plaza, pretty much in the same area. Guitar players played in Red Frog Pub and in the Atrium. We went to the Piano Bar once, and did not end up staying. We did not care for the conversation that was taking place between the performer and another guest criticizing a guest from a previous visit. We only went to Havana Bar once in the evening, and it was nearly empty. We did not know that the showroom doubles as the Nightclub until the end of the week. We did not see any information about the Nightclub in the Fun Times.

We enjoyed a few good shows in the showroom: The Flying Scotsman, Epic Rock Show, MotorCity Show, and a magician. Even though the showroom is not as large as the showroom on other ships, we did not have a problem finding a seat for any of the shows.

There were four different comedians in the Limelight Lounge, and we saw three of them. I read posts from others who were not satisfied with the comedy lounge setup. I thought it was fine, and it was much easier to get a seat for the comedy shows on this ship than it had been on the Breeze. One sad thing about the Limelight Lounge entrance is that many guests seem to think that rules are not made to be followed, and the exit doors were not watched. The entrance to the lounge is by the restaurants; Bonsai Sushi and 555 Steakhouse. The exit is at the aft end by the stairwell, and signs at the exits clearly stated that the doors are exits only. Most guests entered the lounge correctly; however, we also observed many guests enter the lounge through the exit doors--after guests at the entrance had been turned away because the lounge was full, and while guests who had waited in line were still entering through the entrance.

I was upset that we did not get to see the reality show in the Limelight Lounge because there was only one show, and it was at the same time as the magician in the showroom. If you have late dining or anytime dining, you will be able to see both shows because the magician performed twice. We had early dining, and in order to see the magic show and the reality show, we would have had to miss dinner in the dining room. I thought the reality show sounded good, so I wanted to skip the dining room; however, the others in my group wanted to go to the dining room. 

Ports of Call and Shore Excursions

Our first port of call was Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan after two days at sea. The last time we visited this port, we booked the Tabyana Beach excursion through Carnival. We thought the excursion was fabulous, and you can read about our experience in my Carnival Glory review.

This time, we walked to Mahogany Bay, which is less than a half mile walk. We enjoyed the beach; however, we would do things differently next time. We should have checked the port schedule for the date of our stop because the beach was very crowded. The Carnival Liberty was in port the same day as our ship, and they were departing a few hours earlier than we were. We got off the ship shortly after we arrived, and when we were ready to head back to the ship for lunch around 1 p.m., the beach was nearly empty! We should have stayed on the ship, had an early lunch at 11, and then enjoyed the beach solitude until it was time to depart.
sky chair lift
Isla Roatan

We watched the sunset from our balcony before leaving port, and there are more photos on my Facebook page.

Our next port of call was Belize, which is a tender port. Platinum guest instructions for tendering were not clearly provided. All guests were told to go to the Alchemy Bar starting at 7:30 a.m. for a tender sticker. When we went to the bar, we were told that we did not need a sticker. We were told to go directly to the Atrium lobby. We observed a Platinum and Diamond tender sign on one of the tables when we arrived in the Atrium, and many passengers were seated around the lobby. It was not clear if all of the passengers waiting were VIP guests. Within 15 minutes, we were escorted down the hallway to a line for the next tender boat. I observed a couple of non-VIP guests, who our Carnival leader had told to wait and she would be right back to assist them. I do not know if they had Faster to the Fun status or something else. Instead of waiting, they snuck in line with our VIP group as we were in the hallway headed to our tender boarding area.

The last time we were in Belize, we booked the Barrier Reef Snorkel through Carnival, and really enjoyed it. Our excursion was slightly different from the one that is offered now. The excursion looks mostly the same as when we went, except that the man-made island was not there in 2012.

Goff's Caye
This time, we wanted to go to Goff's Caye, which is one of the natural islands in Belize. Carnival no longer offers this excursion, so we booked it through Belize Shore Excursions. I prefer to book through Carnival just for the piece of mind; however, we did not have that option for this tour. I had read great reviews about the company and the excursion on TripAdvisor and on Cruise Critic.

Arrival at Goff's Caye
I thought the water in Belize was just as beautiful as the last time we were there. I did not bring my camera on this tour because we had a 30-minute boat ride on the way there, and I was not sure if we would get wet. We did not get wet in the boat, and fortunately our son had brought his camera [phone], and I got a few pictures from him. I do not snorkel, and I went on this tour for the boat ride and beach. The sand and water on the island were beautiful, and there were decent facilities on the island. Rum punch was included with the tour, and other beverages and food were available for purchase. We did not purchase any food, although guests who did were impressed with it. My husband and our son each bought a bamboo drinking cup from the vendors on the beach.

Raymond's business card
We liked the beach, and our tour guides were great. Raymond, who was personable and informative, told us that he is thinking about starting his own tour business. I do not know how far he has gotten with that yet. He gave me a business card, which I have uploaded to this review. He also has my business card, so if he contacts me with his website after it is launched, I will add that information to this review.

Cozumel was our last port of call. Since we have also visited Cozumel prior to this cruise, we only disembarked briefly to visit the port shops. We were docked very close next to the Carnival Magic. When we were on the Carnival Sunshine watching the big screen TV outside, we could sometimes hear the activities and speaker from the Carnival Magic louder than the speakers on our ship.
Cozumel











Past guest party and Platinum perks


The first elegant evening was our first sea day, January 27th. The second elegant evening and past guest party was Thursday, January 30th. We thought it was poor timing to have these events on a port day. I had expected the second elegant evening to be our last sea day after leaving Cozumel. We were in Belize from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and since it is a tender port, it was not as efficient to get back on board.

chocolates, minus one
Our Platinum chocolates had been delivered to our cabin while we were in Belize. I did not think the delivery of these while we were in port was good timing either. I thought the chocolates we received on our other cruises had been nicer than this delivery. The only other one I have a photo of are the chocolates we received on our Alaska cruise.

Our invitation said that the past guest party was from 4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. -- starting before we were even scheduled to leave Belize! We arrived about 4:35, so we would not need to wait in line, and that was a bad decision on our part. We could not find two seats together; the showroom was more full than I had seen it this entire cruise. The bar counter was filled with mixed drinks, most of which looked like tequila sunrises, although it was difficult to get a glass of wine. It looked like two or three different kinds of food items were being passed out on trays; however, I am not certain of the details since we were not seated and served.

We were all shooed out of the showroom before 5:30. We had been told twice to leave before we did, and when we looked at the time after leaving and sitting down in the lobby bar, it was still a couple of minutes before 5:30. This is the first ship I have been on that held only one past guest party for all guests. Usually, the party is broken into two; either by dining times or status (Gold party, and a separate party for Platinum and Diamond guests). They also did not have a band or orchestra playing and guests dancing on stage, like previous parties we have been to. This was the worst past guest party we have attended, and we felt like it had been timed so that it would be difficult for everyone to attend. Our son missed it because he fell asleep in his cabin after we returned from our excursion.
Platinum gift totes

I thought the Platinum gift was very nice, although my husband wished he'd had the option to choose a different gift so that we did not end up with two of the same items. The mesh tote bag has a small zipper pocket, and the bottom zipper storage is insulated.

We took advantage of the complimentary wash and fold laundry service. We sent one large bag, and our items were returned in two bags. I do not know if that meant that our items had counted as two bags, and it did not really matter. Since we are both Platinum guests, we could have sent out more laundry, if we had needed it. It looks like I lost my husband's souvenir turquoise pocket knife that he purchased on our New Mexico road trip when I sent out our laundry. I sent both of our jeans out to be washed, and I did not check his pockets. He did not wear his jeans again until after we disembarked, so he did not realize his knife was missing while we were still on board. I called the lost and found after our cruise; however, it has been a couple of weeks now, and we have not heard anything.

Meet & Greet party

We met a group of cruisers online before the cruise that set up a meet and greet party. It was in the Limelight Lounge the first day from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. after the muster drill. This was a fabulous deal for $11.50 each, and the bar service was excellent.

I like the way the organizers sold raffle tickets and donated a portion of it to the bartenders. I was glad that we went, although I was also disappointed that we spent an hour in an inside lounge when we were cruising down the Mississippi. If the venue time and location had been finalized before I had made our payment, I do not think we would have attended.

Debarkation

I was surprised when we received our debarkation materials two days before our return instead of the day before. Our letter said that Zones 1 through 3 would be priority guests. We received Zone 2 tags, which surprised me because we were staying an extra night in New Orleans. Since our son had a flight home that day, we decided to disembark during our zone, instead of taking our time and disembarking later. Announcements and self-assist debarkation started before 7 a.m.

Our instructions said to wait in the Sunset Dining Room starting at 7:30 a.m. Since we had Zone 2 tags, we attempted to go to our assigned waiting area shortly after 7:30. Other priority guests were also on the elevator to go to the dining room at the same time as us. The atrium and lobby was roped off, so the dining room was not accessible through the entrance. We had to go back up to deck 5, and then take the stairs down to enter the dining room through the back entrance.

When they called our zone to disembark, they called everyone in the dining room at once! They called zones 1 through 6. I did not understand why there were zone numbers higher than 3, unless the other zones were Faster to the Fun guests. The fact that so many zones were called all at once created huge chaos. The process would have been a lot smoother, if the zones had been split--starting with zones 1 and 2, or zones 1 through 3, for example. The shuffle off the boat went slowly, and after we got our bags, the customs process was quick. We were off the boat shortly after 8 a.m.

New Orleans cab fare is $33 to or from the airport, and $14 for each passenger over two. So, the best transportation fare is a cab for two.


Misc. and overall

I have posted more photos from this cruise in an album on my Facebook page.

The Internet service onboard was almost complimentary, if purchased by the minute. I used it twice, for less than 10 minutes each time, and was only billed $2.25 each time. I expected two $3 to $7 charges. I sent a letter to Carnival about some of the items we were dissatisfied with, and I also mentioned the Internet charges not being correct, so I expect this has been corrected now.

The spa held a complimentary Ladies Pamper Party on the last sea day. I went to this, and there were about 50 of us in attendance. Five spa employees passed out supplies and walked us all through a mini self-facial.

This ship did not have a wine tasting and pairing event. I have attended this event on other ships, and I really missed it. I thought the best big screen concert would have been Journey, which we did not get to see because that was on the screen when we were in Belize.

If you are old-school like me, or are used to the way Sail and Sign charge information has been provided in the past, there were a few different things to be aware of on this ship. A receipt copy was not given after signing for a charge, like Carnival has done in the past. Account information (for charges, etc.) was not available on the TV in the stateroom; however, there were kiosks in the atrium where you could view your account. I read that change is available at the machines, too, although we did not try this.

We were disappointed about many things on this cruise. After 13 Carnival cruises, this was the first time we returned, and did not have a desire to cruise with Carnival again. Before this cruise, we had two destinations in mind; a round-trip cruise from California to Hawaii, and a Panama Canal relocation cruise. We have decided to see what other cruise lines have to offer before we make any future cruise decisions.

The Carnival Sunshine should not be called Carnival's "newest" ship. It should be called exactly what it is; a refurbished ship. This boat has some water problems. In addition to the shower problems we experienced in cabin 6363, we heard guests talking about buckets in the hallways to catch drips, and about water coming up the drain in their bathroom floors. We could sometimes smell sewage in the showroom, and the water slides were sometimes shut down because of a "water problem."

The Fun Times activities and venue open times were not always correct. Sometimes, there was conflicting information in the same issue. Our son became disillusioned when he attempted to attend two activities at the start of the week that were not held at the posted times. The cruise director said that she liked the southern cruises better than cruises out of New York, because people in the south do not care if the times are met. Unbelievable! I am not from New York, nor am I from the south, and everyone on this cruise ship was not from the south either. I can see a bit of variation in the posted schedule for unanticipated things; however, how can passengers plan their days, if the posted activities are not correct?