Carnival Sunrise – the former Carnival Triumph – docked at the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda, on May 25, 2019. Photo © 2019 Aaron Saunders

The Triumph of Carnival Sunrise

Recently, I had the opportunity to sail aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s brand-new Carnival Sunrise on a four-day jaunt from Manhattan out to Bermuda. The voyage to the Atlantic island ended up being a rather stormy affair; more on that below.

Throughout, Carnival Sunrise sparkles like new after her total makeover earlier this year. Photo © 2019 Aaron Saunders

The real star of the show, however, was Carnival Sunrise. The former Carnival Triumph was drydocked at the Navantia shipyard in Cadiz, Spain for over two months; a $200-million-dollar transformation that refitted the ship so extensively that a new name was bestowed upon her. When she emerged from drydock and sailed across the Atlantic in late-April, Carnival Triumph was no more. In her place, Carnival Sunrise shone bright.

Christened by Kelly Arison, daughter of Carnival Corporation chairman and Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, the ceremony at Manhattan’s Pier 90 was a simple but thoughtful one. Micky Arison’s wife, Madeline, had done the honour of serving as Godmother to Carnival Triumph in 1999. Passing the torch to her daughter Kelly, the “new” Carnival Sunrise is clearly an important ship to the Arison family, along with legions of longtime Carnival cruisers. With appearances by DJ Irie, Kathy Lee Gifford and Carnival’s own Christine Duffy, Arnold Donald and longtime Carnival cruise director, brand ambassador, and blog-thingy pioneer John Heald, the event was one of understated success.

This is how Carnival Sunrise could best be thought of: an understated success. Launched in 1999 as part of the three-ship-strong Destiny Class that included Carnival Destiny (1996; now Carnival Sunshine) and Carnival Victory (2000; soon-to-become Carnival Radiance), Carnival Triumph was showing her age. Her innovative but dark and heavy-handed interiors were looking increasingly gloomy, and she was missing many of Carnival’s FunShip 2.0 features, like the RedFrog Pub.

Triumph, Reborn

The transformation from Carnival Triumph to Carnival Sunrise couldn’t have been more dramatic. The ship’s public rooms were completely reconfigured and re-decorated. Under-utilised areas were scrapped in favor of new passenger accomodations. The entire general arrangement plan for Deck 5 was altered, adding in the largest RedFrog Pub in the history of the company, along with the Alchemy Bar; the new Piano Bar 88; a new Casino; a completely new Cloud 9 Spa and Fitness Center on Deck 11; and the Bonsai Sushi; Cucina del Capitano; and Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse specialty restaurants.

Both main dining rooms received a full overhaul, as did the Lido Marketplace Buffet on Deck 9. In the case of the former midship London Dining Room – now renamed the Radiance Dining Room – the central staircase that used to link the Deck 4 level of the venue with its Deck 5 counterpart has been removed. Ditto for the flanking staircases in the Sunrise Restaurant (ex-Paris Dining Room) all the way aft. The result are dining spaces that feel much more modern, open, and less crowded than their previous iterations. Thankfully, the food here is just as good as it always was, if not better: Carnival has really been upping its culinary game in the past few years, and cruisers will find the latest menus aboard Carnival Sunrise.

Out With The Old: Both main dining rooms aboard Carnival Sunrise have seen substantial changes, including removed staircases, new furniture, and entirely reconfigured serving stations. Photo © 2019 Aaron Saunders

Other little changes abound. The aft pool area on Deck 9 has been substantially redesigned, and the former retractable magrodome cover removed. The magrodome never made much sense. With Carnival Sunrise expected to sail particularly warm-weather runs (excluding my stormy crossing to Bermuda), the Magrodome is largely unnecessary.

Goodbye, Magrodome! A much more open aft pool aboard the “new” Carnival Sunrise. Photo © 2019 Aaron Saunders

Another fun addition is the JavaBlue Café. Tucked away on the starboard side of Atlantic Deck 4 just aft of the atrium, this is Carnival’s go-to spot for all things caffeinated. Here you’ll find specialty coffees, pastries and light bites, boozy beverages, and even cans of Carnival’s very own craft beer that can be taken to-go.

The JavaBlue Café isn’t a new innovation, but its location aboard Carnival Sunrise is: this is the first fully-enclosed café, as such, in the Carnival fleet, and you’ll find a nice small sitting area here that has board games, daily programs, and copies of the daily crossword as well.

Throughout the ship, hardly a trace of her origins as Carnival Triumph are apparent. The result is a ship that looks, and largely feels, brand new.

Maybe it was the weather – our first day at sea was stormy, rocky and unpleasant to be outside – but the ship can feel crowded at times. Finding a quiet place to read is nearly impossible, unless you are lucky enough to snag one of the chairs by the windows at the Alchemy Bar before its 4pm opening time. And despite its largest-in-the-fleet size, the RedFrog Pub was often packed to capacity, with standing-room only for Karaoke and trivia events.

That made me wonder about the new Limelight Lounge on Deck 4, which was under-utilized except for the occasional Art Auction and the evening Punchliner Comedy performances. When I sailed aboard Carnival Sunrise, she’d been in service for a few weeks. I would expect that as time goes by, some events might migrate from the RedFrog Pub down one deck to the Limelight Lounge.

However, this is a Fun Ship – it should be busy and boisterous. I’d be worried if it wasn’t. Once we reached the warmer climate of Bermuda, things evened out a bit onboard. And at no point in time did the ship stop being fun; on the contrary: this is a ship that demands fun!

Bermuda

Welcome to Bermuda!

In many ways, Carnival Sunrise is the perfect vessel for Bermuda. Although too big in size to squeeze right into Hamilton, the berthing location at the Royal Naval Dockyard isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. There are a number of fascinating attractions, dining venues and shopping experiences to be had near the pier, so don’t assume you must go into Hamilton for the day.

Disembarkation was conducted from Deck 1 via two gangways and was efficient and orderly. I’d booked Carnival’s five-hour Aquarium, Caves & Attractions tour in order to make the most of my first visit to Bermuda. Many ships often overnight in Bermuda, but this quick sailing aboard Carnival Sunrise would visit the Island for just one day.

Our first stop was the Crystal Caves – an impressive network of underground caves situated almost smack in the middle of the island. The caves are absolutely beautiful, and our guide provided some fantastic history of their discovery and preservation. I will say that you should be very fit to take this tour: there are a number of steep ascents and descents via stairs into and out of the caves. Anyone with mobility issues will probably want to take a pass on this.

After that, we visited the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, a three-in-one building located in the Hamilton parish township of Flats Village. The aquarium houses more than 200 species of fish and marine mammals from Bermuda and its surroundings. It’s quite a surprising display for such a small island, and one well worth visiting.

The zoo part was a little less enthralling. Aside from a lazy crocodile basking in the mud and a slow-moving tortoise I didn’t see much of anything. The vistas were pretty, though.

Our final stop was at Gibbs Hill Lighthouse. The wind had picked up again, making it difficult to hold on to hats and cameras when we got off the motorcoach. Still, the all-encompassing view of Bermuda makes this a stop that is very worthwhile on any visit. You can even hike to the top of the lighthouse, for a small fee, if time permits.

Back onboard: Carnival Sunrise prepares to sail from Bermuda for New York. Photo © 2019 Aaron Saunders

Before long, it was back to the Royal Naval Dockyard and the waiting Carnival Sunrise!

Carnival Sunrise – A New Take on a Classic Ship

The refreshed Pool Deck aboard Carnival Sunrise. Photo © 2019 Aaron Saunders

Four days isn’t a lot of time to really get to know a ship, but Carnival Sunrise impressed me with its level of comfort and amenities. If I am being honest, the Destiny Class have always been my least-favorite Carnival ships. In the past, they’d been missing amenities and were beginning to show their age.

That’s all changed with this massive refit program that will conclude next year with the transformation of Carnival Victory into Carnival Radiance. I’ll be sailing aboard Carnival Victory next year to sample the pre-and-post-refit product, but if Carnival Sunrise is any indication, Carnival Radiance will emerge just as comfortable.

You can catch Carnival Sunrise sailing out of New York City to Bermuda and Canada and New England before she relocates to Fort Lauderdale later this year, where she will operate a series of four-and-five-day adventures to the Caribbean.

 

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