Budget Breakdown + Cruise Hacks/Tips from Our Vacation on the Carnival Sunshine

You know how when you’re reading a food blog and all you want is for them to stop talking about everything they did that day and just get to the damn recipe already? 

I’m not going to bore you with any precursors and get straight to the point, because there is a lot we learned.

It was my first cruise and I’m definitely the researcher in the family. I thrive off of feeling informed and “in the know” before I travel somewhere. So here are the things my hours of research proved right for us…and the things that were more “ehhhhh” or not even mentioned at all. Right here, in one concise and easy-to-chew bite. 🙂

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4 day cruise on the Carnival Sunshine from Charleston, SC to Nassau, Bahamas for 2
Ticket Cost: $289 per person (before any taxes or fees)
Extras: Cheers drinks package, chat feature on Carnival App, Social Media internet plan
Total Ticket Cost (after taxes and fees): $787
Total Cost of Cheers drinks package for 2: $519
Total Cost of Social Media internet plan for 1: $27
Total Cost of Cruise Parking: $80
Total Cost of chat feature for 2: $10
Final Cost of all Gratuities: $229

Side note: The automatically added gratuities from the cruise ship is a hotly debated topic–would read up on this before you board because you can only choose to have them removed while you are still on the ship. We had over $110 added to our bill from Carnival; the rest were tips we chose to leave the staff on our own.

Grand Total: $1,652 


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So Glad We Brought/Did This:

  • Lanyards

Best $11.99 spent on Amazon. We wore these every single moment of every day to carry around our room/cash cards.

  • Liquid IV packets in Passion Fruit

Someone had messaged me about something in pill form that was cheaper that accomplished the same thing, but these were pure gold on the cruise. I added it to my water in the morning, mid-afternoon and at night and never once felt dehydrated or the tiniest bit hungover. And you know that’s a feat after drinking all day in the sun in your mid-thirties.

  • Seabands

We had some rough seas the first evening on board and then again the last night. These were life savers. Find what works for you–whether it’s these, dramamine or the patches that go behind your ears. Be safe and bring a couple options with you if you’re worried about getting seasick.

  • A couple sweaters

Late January/early February was a tad chilly on the deck as we approached and left the Bahamas. The temperatures inside the ship can fluctuate as well, so be safe if you’re cruising in the winter/spring and bundle up just in case!

  • Early debarkation

6:30AM felt reallllly early on our Monday off the ship, but it was worth it to beat the crowds.

  • Let guest services know as soon as we realized something was up with our room

We slept terribly the first night in our room due to this crazy loud, constant creaking noise coming from one of the walls. We went to Guest Services, they checked it out and immediately gave us a new room and a complimentary dinner at one of the specialty restaurants (that was so good)

  • Carnival Chat Feature on the app

We traveled with friends so this was a great way to keep in touch on the ship (although it was a little glitchy at times). Was just $5 per person for the length of the cruise.

  • Cheers drinks package 

Okay so—if you plan to drink at least 4 beverages with liquor in them and 2 really good coffees throughout the day (or milkshakes/smoothies) then you need to go ahead and get the Cheers drinks package. It covers 15 alcoholic beverages and unlimited non-alcoholic beverages including energy drinks, specialty coffees, bottled water, etc. (The drinks on a cruise are not cheap and start to add up fast!)

  • Social Media internet plan (strictly to keep in touch with sitter) 

$6.80 per day on the cruise gave us the peace of mind to know that if our sitter needed us, she could message us through Facebook or WhatsApp. If you’re trying to digitally detox, I would recommend deleting all the apps on your phone and just keeping WhatsApp to keep in touch with anyone back home. 

  • Checked our luggage on the way in

I thought we wouldn’t be doing this on the way in because we traveled with two Osprey Farpoint 80 packs and one smaller backpack, but we didn’t end up checking and kept the smaller pack with us. Once we boarded it took about two hours for our luggage to arrive outside our stateroom, but we’re glad we didn’t have to lug the giant packs through a crowded ship to our room. Just make sure to keep anything you need in your carry-on.

  • Downloaded books/Netflix shows in advance

I finished an entire book on the cruise and at night was able to unwind watching the shows I had downloaded; definitely worth remembering before boarding!

  • Got bottles of water with every drink at the bar

Every single time. The water on board doesn’t taste great so bottled is the way to go and it’s “free” with your Cheers package.



So Glad We Didn’t Bring This:

  • Power strip for extra outlets

I kept reading there would be maybe one outlet in our stateroom but there were two in our bathroom and two in our main living area, which we found to be plenty. Just make sure you’re charged up before you leave your room for the day, because outlets on the ship can be hard to find.

  • Hanging organizer

We each had more closet space and hangers in the 185 SF stateroom than we did while we lived and traveled in our RV. Also ample shelving in the bathrooms. I found no reason to bring an extra hanging organizer.

  • Tons of small bills for tipping and thank you cards

Everything on the ship is paid for with your “Sail & Sign” card, so a wad of dollar bills isn’t necessary and I wouldn’t want to be carrying them around anyway. Also, if we waited until the very end to tip our favorite bartender (Edward at The Alchemy Bar, FYI) and handed him that with a thank you card then, I doubt our drinks would have been made nearly as strong. The only exception we found to this was with our server at the restaurant when we dined there in the evenings and also our room attendants; there was no way to tip them unless you had cash on you. There is an email that gets sent around after your cruise asking you specifics on your experience, so remember their names and make sure to give them some props! *Also remember to read up on the automatic gratuities!

  • Things to decorate our door like a middle school locker

Just take a picture of your room number with your phone or put it on a piece of paper in your lanyard in case you have a little too much to drink one night. 😉

  • Beach towels

Would have taken up way too much space in our luggage. Just don’t lose the ones the ship gives you!



Wish We Had Brought/Done This:

  • Metal straws

While we are so happy the plastic straws are banished from Carnival, the lime flavored candy straws aren’t everyone’s jam. I laughed at the metal straw recs I saw but now wished I had brought one.

  • Stuff for an upset stomach

Endless food. So much food. Your stomach might have a tough time with that after day one so be prepared!

  • Melatonin/sleep aid

I had forgotten this and it’s a fairly regular staple in my everyday life to help me sleep. If you think you will have any issues sleeping, I would recommend a sleep aid just in case.

  • Just stayed on the boat in Nassau/brought better walking shoes

We opted not to do any excursions or go to Atlantis (btw, day passes are not cheap). We instead opted for a real feel of Nassau and hiked on foot to the John Watlings Distillery, Junkanoo Beach and then the Queen’s Staircase. The highlight of the day turned out to be none of those, but instead finding the coolest local woodcarver who our friend purchased a couple carvings from for her kids and had their names inscribed in the back. We found Nassau to be (sadly) incredibly dirty and next time would probably opt to stay on the ship and enjoy the gorgeous weather we had.  

  • Skipped the first safety briefing and hit the secondary one

We are all about safety and having passengers understand where to go in case of an emergency, but Carnival’s safety briefing was rough. Guaranteed Sully wouldn’t have lasted more than 5 minutes had he been there. I’m not sure how any parent with small kids fared…or if they all knew to avoid it. We were all tucked shoulder to shoulder in our designated muster stations for what felt like literally forever just to see how to put on a life jacket. I still don’t know the procedure for getting onto a life boat because they never demonstrated it. Afterwards, we heard there was a secondary meeting held elsewhere and we would have much preferred to have attended that. 

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The “Ehhhh” Items:

  • Hook magnets

The ones we got only held something as heavy as our lanyards–which were nice for hanging on the back of the door so we didn’t misplace them. But not good for much else.

  • Towel clips

Never used these once. You can only put your towel out on a deck chair for 40 minutes unattended before they remove it. 

  • Yetis for our drinks (would feel differently had it been hot)

In the weather we had, the plastic cups our drinks came in were fine. But these definitely would have come in handy for hotter temps.

  • Earplugs

If you need these regularly for a partner’s snoring (ahem)… then don’t forget them. But if you’re relying on them to block out noises from the ship, you might be disappointed. Mine did nothing to block that weird creaking noise in our first room. If you have an incredibly noisy room, you may need to ask to be moved or just use a sleep aid that will knock you out.

Did we leave anything out? What are some of the best cruise tips you’ve found? Share them below in the comments!

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