Carnival Liberty vs Carnival Sunshine - Which is the better family travel option?
This is a 100% honest, 100% authentic review comparison of the Carnival Liberty vs the Carnival Sunshine cruise ships. Dadtography was not compensated in any way for this post.
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Are Carnival cruises the best option for family travel?
I am personally convinced that cruising is one of, if not THE best family travel option available today.
But there are a lot of cruise lines and ships out there to choose from. How do you know which cruise line, ship and itinerary is best for your family?
As a family, we've been on a half-dozen cruises together across multiple cruise lines. We wanted to judge for ourselves if some of the stereotypes were true. Are longer-duration ships really better than the shorter cruises?
The best way to evaluate this question is to compare two similar ships within the same cruise line. In this case - reviewing the Carnival Liberty, a 952-foot, 110,000 gross tonnage ship that primarily sails to the Bahamas out of Port Canaveral, Florida compared to the Carnival Sunshine. The Sunshine is an 893-foot, 102,853 gross tonnage ship that sails longer itineraries out of either Port Canaveral or Charleston, SC (for the summer of 2018).
Related Video: Carnival vs Royal Caribbean Bahamas Cruise Comparison
How do the prices compare between Carnival Sunshine and Carnival Liberty cruises?
Ok, let's start with a few disclaimers when it comes to trying to compare pricing between the Liberty and Sunshine.
The believe is that longer cruises will be more expensive, but will cost less per night than the shorter cruises. That's not always the case and depends upon a number of factors, to name just a few:
- What time of year are you sailing?
- What port of origin are you leaving from?
- What ports of call are you visiting?
- How many travelers are in your party?
The price per night is really what you should pay the most attention to. That calculation tells you how good (or not good) of a deal a cruise really is. In my experience, a good deal on a cruise is where the per-night cost, before taxes and gratuities, comes in under $100 per night.
I've secured some great deals, where the cost per night was closer to $70 per night. When you think about it, you can barely stay in a 3-star roadside motel for that cost per night. So being able to cruise at that price point is pretty remarkable.
There are deals to be had.
Both the Liberty and Sunshine have very affordable sailing options, if you're willing to search. Usually, the further out in advance OR the more last-minute you book will provide for better deals. Pick your ship. Pick your port, and be willing to look at cruises next season or even next year and you'll find some good pricing.
Comparing pricing right now (as of May 13, 2018), here are some of the deals I'm seeing:
Carnival Sunshine sailing out of Charleston, SC
- 4-day Bahamas from $279 per person
- 5-day Bahamas from $319 per person
- 4-day Cuba from $329 per person
- 5-day Cuba from $349 per person
Carnival Sunshine sailing out of Port Canaveral, FL
- 5-day Eastern Caribbean from $404 per person
- 8-day Eastern Caribbean from $469 per person
Carnival Liberty sailing out of Port Canaveral, FL
- 4-day (weekday) Bahamas from $199 per person
- 3-day (weekend) Bahamas from $199 per person
- 4-day Bahamas from $209 per person
- 4-day Bahamas from $254 per person
Sunshine average cost per night: $89.50
Liberty average cost per night: $80
How do the ships compare?
Liberty vs. Sunshine - how does the quality of the two ships compare?
How do the pools compare?
The pools and sundecks are important aspects of a cruise. How do they compare?
How do the cabins compare?
Liberty vs. Sunshine - how do the cabins compare?
How does the entertainment compare?
There's a lot to do at sea - but which ship has better entertainment options?
How does the food compare?
The age old question of food quality - which has better food?
Are all itineraries equal?
Itineraries matter - learn how the Liberty and Sunshine itineraries compare.
Carnival Liberty vs Carnival Sunshine - How do the ships compare?
We sailed aboard the Carnival Liberty twice before our first sailing on the Carnival Sunshine. Like most, I think we generally expected longer duration sailings to have larger, newer ships.
When you check out the specs below, you'll clearly see that's not the case when comparing the Liberty and Sunshine. But there's more to this comparison than just how large or new the ships are.
Generally, we found the Carnival Sunshine to be in better condition, overall, than the Carnival Liberty. The Sunshine, despite being older, has been refitted more recently than the Liberty. This shows in some of the maintenance aspects of the ship.
We were surprised when we learned that the Liberty is actually physically longer and heavier than the Sunshine. The features on the Sunshine make it feel larger than it is.
In this case, don't judge a Carnival Sunshine book by its cover. Yes, it's smaller and older, but we found it to be a better ship than the Liberty.
Year Built - 1996 (launched as the Carnival Destiny)
Most Recent Refit - 2014
Ship Tonnage - 102,853 GT
Guest Capacity - 3002
Length - 892 ft
Onboard Crew - 1040
Year Built - 2005
Most Recent Refit - 2011
Ship Tonnage - 110,000 GT
Guest Capacity - 2974
Length - 952 ft
Onboard Crew - 1160
Ship Advantage: Carnival Sunshine
Carnival Liberty vs Carnival Sunshine - How do the cabins compare?
On the Carnival Liberty, we've sailed in both an inside stateroom as well as in a balcony room.
On the Carnival Sunshine, we've only sailed in an inside stateroom, so our comparison will focus on the similar rooms (despite the mis-matching photos below).
Inside cabins are small - that is the case no matter which ship you're on. Inside cabins will be the least expensive and the smallest. There are advantages to inside cabins that you should be aware of, so if you're debating what type of stateroom to book, be sure to check out our comprehensive cabin comparison post for more information.
Despite being a larger ship, we found the inside cabins on the Carnival Liberty to actually be slightly smaller than on the Sunshine. They may not actually be smaller - it may have just been differences in the layout, or entirely in our minds. We felt a bit cramped in the Liberty on a shorter cruise, but we didn't really feel as cramped in the Sunshine.
Because we have no scientific evidence to back these "feelings" up, we feel compelled to call this comparison category a draw.
(Interior) Cabin Advantage: Draw
Carnival Liberty vs Carnival Sunshine - Which ship has better food?
Food, food, food. Everyone wants to know who has the best food. The biggest debate really centers around the food on Carnival vs the food on Royal Caribbean, but does the food quality, taste, etc vary even when comparing two ships on the same cruise line?
The short answer is YES, it does. At least in our experience.
I personally think there are a number of factors that go into the food quality and taste on a per-ship basis. Among the factors would be:
- Food ingredient quality and age
- Chef experience and skill
- Food service staff experience and skill (hot food is better than cold)
I'm sure Carnival has defined standards for these areas, but differences can occur. In our three sailing experiences between Carnival Liberty and Carnival Sunshine, we thought the overall food quality and taste was better on the Sunshine. This includes all aspects of the food - from the main dining room to room service, the Lido deck buffet and specialty restaurants on each ship.
Dining & Food Advantage: Carnival Sunshine
Carnival Liberty vs Carnival Sunshine - Which ship has better pools, sundecks and water features?
Pools, sundecks and water slides are THE most important aspect of cruising for my family. We have two boys that spend the majority of their time playing on the ship.
They enjoy venturing off on their own (and we enjoy that as well!) and the first place they go is either the pool or water slide.
We like to relax on the sundecks, mostly in fully or partially shaded areas. We like some excitement now and then, but we're mostly interested in cruising to relax.
That said, the Carnival Sunshine has a distinct advantage over the Liberty when it comes to pools, sundecks and water slides.
The Liberty only has a single water slide while the Sunshine has three full-size slides.
The Liberty's Serenity deck is considerably smaller than the Serenity areas found on the Sunshine.
The pools between the Liberty and Sunshine are pretty much the same, but with fewer guests on board the Sunshine, all areas of the ship felt a little less crowded, despite the ship also being slightly smaller.
Pools, Water Slides & Sundeck Advantage: Carnival Sunshine
Carnival Liberty vs Carnival Sunshine - Which ship has better entertainment?
I will be honest upfront - I'm not really all that into onboard entertainment. Most of the shows I've been to so far have been less than impressive. I know there are some great shows, especially on some of the newer and larger ships, and I'm very much looking forward to those later this year.
My point is that you can take this part of the review with a bit of a grain of salt if you're super into cruise ship entertainment.
What stands out for me is the SportsSquare on the Carnival Sunshine. This is the part of the ship near the back that includes a basketball court, a SkyCourse, billiards, foosball, mini golf, chess and, of course, the WaterWorks park with water slides.
Ship Entertainment Options Advantage: Carnival Sunshine
Carnival Liberty vs Carnival Sunshine - Which ship has a better itinerary and ports?
I know this is an unfair comparison, but when you're considering which ship is better, you have to factor in the ports of call as well.
Now, don't get me wrong, I genuinely enjoy the Bahamas - especially Nassau. It's a beautiful port that is a decent place to explore on foot. It's been known to have some security issues, mostly with theft, but that's not really unique to Nassau.
Here are the ports we've visited while on board the Liberty:
- Port Canaveral, FL
- Nassau, Bahamas
- Freeport, Grand Bahama Island
Here are the ports we visited on our 9-day eastern Caribbean Sunshine sailing:
- Port Canaveral, FL
- Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- St. Kitts
- St. Maarten
The eastern Caribbean itinerary above has been our favorite ports of call so far. We've already booked another sailing on a different cruise line and ship for the fall of 2018 that go to many of the same ports.
Itineraries & Ports Advantage: Carnival Sunshine
When it comes to choosing a "winner" between the Liberty and Sunshine, it really comes down to personal preference and what's most important to you.
I'd sum up the advantages of the Carnival Liberty with the following points:
- Shorter, more flexible itineraries
- Less expensive (but also shorter) cruises
- Easy accessibility via Port Canaveral
If you can't tell by our review, we really enjoyed our sailing on board the Carnival Sunshine. It was a great experience for us and we'd definitely recommend it to anyone considering a Carnival cruise.
The advantages of the Carnival Sunshine can be summed up with the following points:
- Despite being older, the ship is in better condition
- Way better WaterWorks (water slides) for kids
- Way better ports of call
- Lots of sailing options
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