This set was provided by the Operations & Community Engagement of The LEGO Group for the purpose of sharing set details with fans. Opinions provided here solely reflect those of our reviewer. Photographs are property of Friends Bricks and are not directed by TLG in any fashion.
Now, I’m guessing that your first impression of this set could be one of nonchalance. Perhaps you're thinking, “Meh. It's a remake of the Dolphin Cruiser. …just another party boat with a pair of marine mammals and a waterslide." But I would disagree! This is no “oh-hum" pleasure craft. It's a – an elegant piece of engineering with a very special place in my heart! So, I could not wait to see what LEGO had included for features and how they'd be modeled. Such an unusual interior space would make for an interesting design challenge.
The LEGO company began promoting the Sunshine Catamaran prior to its availability via videos and social media. I even spotted it used as the setting for a comic in my son’s LEGO Life® magazine. …Heh, I do love Olivia here.
Incidentally, this is not the only catamaran set released this year. LEGO City also offers a little bare-bones "cat," towed by a 4x4 for pair of minifigures . And in the past, there have been many LEGO catamarans, including ones for Wookies  and Islanders , and even a floating speedboat version . But I'm happy to see one join the Friends line.
In case you don't know much about them, a catamaran's distinctive trait is its twin hulls. (Typical boats have just one, while a trimaran would have three.) Cats can be large or small, and powered by motor or sail. But they'll always feature two long floats with a joining deck. Even a modest catamaran will make use of the space inside each hull, adding a lower level for “the head” (a toilet) and a bunk or two. A larger one may include a lounge and upper-deck seating. And a super high-end yacht may even have a “tender garage” (storage for a small water craft).
Well! Today our lucky Friends, Olivia and Stephanie, find themselves on just such a posh three-story transport. Exactly how this came to be, story-wise, I have no idea. But, for the sake of fun imagining: we'll say that Stephanie's parents have arranged a skippered yacht charter as a special treat for her and a friend. Thus, Liam is meant to help with operation and navigation. By the end of their trip however, he’ll undoubtedly become a member of the "Friends crew," so-to-speak.
I received my copy of this set directly from LEGO headquarters in Denmark. Although it had been well packed in an undamaged outer box, I found my sealed set with a bit of crush on one corner. Otherwise, it looked mint. Here it is with a 12-inch ruler for scale.
The front shows the traditional Friends branding and picture of the five girls. The set is nicely depicted and includes an inset picture revealing the boat's interior. Background art shows Heartlake City and, if you look closely, you'll see two other 2017 summer sets: Andrea's Speedboat Transporter  and the Heartlake Surf Shop . Three minidolls are presented in a line-up: Olivia, Stephanie, and a new character, Liam. Because this is European packaging, there is no piece count or set name. But the suggested age range and set number are included. Also, in tiny white print, we are informed that the "Catamaran does not float." Your fearless reviewer tried it (so you don't have to), and... Indeed, it does *not* float.
Other sides show: an accurate 1:1 scaled minidoll, an ad for the new LEGO Life campaign, safety warnings and country of origin, etc. It's interesting that they're adding "Do Not Sell" stickers to review copies. Ha! I wouldn't dream of it. This is all mine! :-)
Back-of-the-box art does a great job of showing play ideas and functionality. Most of these images can be seen online at the official LEGO shop, along with the product description. But here there's also a focus on the Stephanie minidoll and a graphic indicating five bags of parts plus an instruction book emerging from the box.
The featured assortment of small specialty pieces looks appealing, but perhaps a bit stale. I would've loved to have seen a new printed tile, such as a nautical chart, or a fresh edition of the newspaper. Until then, I will pretend this is a new front page and that dog has earned yet another award (…winning-est puppy ever!) The camera element is new in lime this year and also makes appearances in the Surf Shop and Snow Chalet sets.
After cutting through three super-tough seals with a knife [Am I the only one who still tries first to use my fingernails to break these – even though it's been years since that has worked...?], I unpacked the contents: five numbered bags, one un-numbered bag of large elements, and a flat sealed bag containing the sticker sheet, instruction book, and vinyl sail. I'm grateful that my sticker sheet and instructions are not crumpled or warped, thanks to being bagged.
The 168-page building instruction book is perfect-bound (no staples) and follows the expected format. Directions are clear and simple. Here’s a peek at a typical page:
Following the very final instruction of adding the sail to our catamaran, we see a view of the finished set followed by two pages of parts inventory. Next, new Friends sets are promoted with interspersed Polaroid-style snapshots of the characters having fun. Then, there are ads for Friends and LEGO Life apps, and a one-page overview of all four mini-doll lines (Friends, Elves, Disney Princess, and DC Super Hero Girls). The back cover encourages us to submit feedback about this set, online. You can examine a digital version of this book yourself by downloading the .pdf file from LEGO customer service here.
Unpacking, here's a close-up of the stickers that will go into the set:
Stickers #9 and #10 indicate our catamaran's vessel ID. It shows: HLC (“Heartlake City,” I assume) 41317 (the set number) and a dolphin symbol. Sticker #13 will go on the lounge's flatscreen. Hey, is that... Mia – in a TV commercial for the Surf Shop? Stickers #19 and #20 will go in the bunk rooms. I imagine #20 shows Emma and Stephanie (plus a mysterious message in a bottle!). And, in #19, that may be ...Olivia? with the green camera! Hmm… that gives me an idea for later.
Here are the contents of the un-numbered bag. These elements will go toward later builds involving bags 2, 4, and 5.
Of note: The fuselage-bottom element is new in magenta. The yellow lattice "net" is brand new – an updated version of an older design with new connection points and slightly increased length. Those large clear windscreens are delicious and have thus-far only been found (one per copy) in the VW Beetle  and the new London Bus . A smokey version was available in a Star Wars set. They're not as large as the old 2x12x4 version, but still welcome in my collection!
The medium azure curved slide is part of this year's new modular slide system. An accompanying straight segment will appear in our bag 4. I consider these an improvement over the larger slide element because they allow for greater versatility. I look forward to collecting many more of these components (sourced, for example, from the Heartlake Summer Pool  and the Hot Chocolate Van  sets) to build something super twisty-crazy! The yellow stairs are also part of this new system.
Here are the contents of Bag 1:
OMG, dolphins! Can I just say how excited I am to finally get my hands on some minidoll-style dolphins? Although they've been around for years, these are my first. Super adorable. They appear to be twins and I'm told their names are Sheen and Sapphire. Both have eyelashes (a technical inaccuracy I shall overlook) and include many convenient connection points for hands, clips and studs. Pardon me while I take a moment to compare these with an old-style dolphin mold and the brand new City version (found in the "Fun at the Beach" People Pack) , which is strikingly similar, but not the same. Have a look:
I'm actually surprised that LEGO has bothered to create the newest mold, although I personally do find it the most appealing. Losing the blowhole as an accessory point is a shame, but... if you know much about dolphin anatomy, you'll be aware that they cannot breathe through their mouths. So, blocking their only source of oxygen, for the sake of fashion, is... well, a bit cruel. (But so cute!)
All three of the minidolls are new, as assembled. Of their components, however, the only new parts are: the torsos of Liam and Stephanie, and Liam's strikingly green-eyed head. Stephanie's versatile torso, in addition to resembling a one-piece bathing suit, may easily pass for an exercise top or dance leotard. Perhaps we'll see it return in the future. You may recognize Olivia's bikini top, first worn by Martina in the Heartlake Pool, from earlier this year. I'm glad to see our crew is conscious of water safety and wearing their life vests! Later in the build, watch also for three throwable life-preservers.
Here's how the instructions suggest we assemble the crew. It looks like our friends have time for a snack before heading on board!
Below are the other small builds from this bag. It's nice that we're rewarded early-on with items to jump into a bit of play. Bag 2 will be be more “dry” and construction-oriented.
The colorful jet-ski can tow an inflatable "banana boat" (yes, those are a real-life thing!), or maybe even the inner-tube, for a wild ride. Hmmm... I see someone has packed their lipstick. Maybe for today we'll call that a safety flare!
The two lounge chairs will eventually flank the main deck. But, for now the ladies can use them to relax. I had some doubts about how the figures would fit on these, but, I must say, they work nicely! Not a big deal but, a slight oddity in the preview art (on pages 3 and 5) shows the lounge chairs as looking identical, while the building instructions and box art clearly tell us to pattern the colors opposite. In actuality, the chairs’ constructions are identical, just rotated and positioned differently. So, I don’t consider this to be a mistake – more like an inconsistency.
Moving on to bag 2...
Some items to note: the tan 4x12 plate, not seen since 2004; more newly-magenta parts; and new color (trans-light blue) for that hinged windscreen.
As construction begins, we are building our catamaran up from the bottom. There's some thoughtful plate work in here, to lock everything together into a very solid base. As an example, you can see how these hinges are buried in a "plate sandwich." This assembly will get locked into the build with even more plates.
Applying tiny stickers can be tricky enough, but when you're putting them on a transparent element, take care to not leave a goopy smear, as I did here. “Doh!”
And here's our progress by the end of bag 2. Things are taking shape! I love the glass-bottom feature for viewing underwater life. And the assorted tan tiles pattern into a lovely wood-floor decking effect, appropriate for a sailboat.
Parts from bag 3 will begin defining and developing our interior areas. Parts-wise, not much is new here. I'm happy to have more pizza slices though!
The lower level, while not entirely finished, has gotten some key features including: comfy-looking bunks with decorative covers, a toilet and sinks, and lounge furniture.
Time for more parts…
Medium azure is a new color in both the 1x6 and L-shaped corner tiles (love those!). We've received many windows here, as well as clear 2x2 "skids" to place on the underside, for gliding action.
This part of the build was pretty simple, so I'll jump ahead to an overhead view of the completed lower level and talk a bit about each area. Actually, working on this image brought to my attention one of my favorite things about this set: that this is essentially a specialized tiny house. Personally, I can spend hours pouring over floor-plans of treehouses, Japanese apartments, motorhomes, and anything else that may pass for a tiny house. So catamaran layouts are certainly a love. Google it yourself to see how nifty they are. You may be inspired to redesign the interior of your Sunshine Catamaran! ...I might modify mine later to include a laboratory for Olivia's experiments!
Turntables on either side will receive the lounge chairs we built early-on. Two white studs have been left exposed to act as attachment points for the upper decks, coming in bag 5. Between the hulls, a characteristic net is spread. In real-life, this is a superb place to be lying face-down, watching the sparkling water speed by beneath. That's a distinct memory of my own happy catamaran trip with friends!
The galley (kitchen) is minimal but effective. It has a sink and stovetop. I'm guessing that’s an oven for heating the pizza, but it seems possible that it could be a refrigerator for cold pizza – Your call. There's also a bar with two stools and mugs.
Both bunk rooms have beautiful wooden floors and windows. In the rear of one, there's a bit of personal space for beauty items and a postcard-writing station. Behind the other is a small bathroom. In there, is a shower curtain beside the toilet. That seems a little weird, but I guess it’s either decorative or an implied additional shower.
I'm more confused as to why the bathroom door does not close without leaving a wide gap. I can see how construction would need alteration to make a tight close possible. But I also noticed that, if opening it a full 90 degrees, that door then appropriately fits another doorway which is interesting. Doing so would allow for more privacy in that bunk room by closing it off from the kitchen.
The stern (rear) of our catamaran features: a storage bay with natural lighting, the bottom half of the water-slide, and a dock-like platform. An outdoor shower allows our friends to rinse away salty seawater before heading inside through a lovely functional sliding door.
I’ll discuss the lounge a little later. First, let’s open bag 5…
I see a 6x12 tan plate which is fairly unusual. They've not been around since 2003. There's also one in the current Snow Resort Ice Rink . It's interesting to see two large tan plates (the other being 4x12) make a comeback!
For this final leg of the build, we'll also need elements from that un-numbered bag and we'll punch out the flexible vinyl "sail" from its sheet.
Once the build is complete, we are left with a nice assortment of tiny spare parts, as well as a brick separator.
Below are the fully assembled top decks. This entire unit fits onto the lower living level, attaching by two studs plus a snug front-to-back fit. This can be slightly tricky to align, but not too bad. Removing it again, however, I found that I'd sometimes forget where I was supposed to grab it by, to lift it off. So, one time (when in a hurry), I ripped away some of the lower level along with it (at the back). But I'm sure this must have gone through a lot of play-testing with kids. I appreciate that the completed vessel doesn't fall apart when I grab it and swoosh it around; though the fruit and other little unsecured bits would be airborne if I didn’t put them aside first. The mast pivots a bit too freely for my liking. More friction in the base connection would be nice, to prevent the constant boom-swinging I experienced.
I'm a little disappointed at the simplicity of the sailing features. The mast and single sail are so small and basic, it's almost silly. But this is Friends, after all, not the Expert line. So, fantasy rules; and the fact that this boat has no anchor, rudders, jib, on-board radio, etc. is to be expected.
Looking at the above image however, I am almost tempted to rip off just that uppermost deck and have the girls try sailing that around, because the proportions there look so much more realistic to me. Come to think of it – it could have been amusing to have a sort of "bare-minimum boat" that detached (as the cockpit sections of some spaceship models do). Haha.
In another instance of imagination trumping realism… Our crew can easily travel from the main deck to lower via yellow spiral stairs. But main deck to upper could be more challenging. There are two yellow mini-ladders which lack handholds. One is placed in the hot-tub, and the other is on the starboard (right) side, leading up into an awkward jut-out. If heading up there, perhaps a friend can lend a hand. But at least heading down is quick – via the fun slide!
On that upper perch are a pair of stools astride a small table offering up healthy snacks. Behind a windscreen are a small steering wheel and reclining chair. I would have loved to have seen this wheel much larger – the type that requires a standing position. But that could make for an easy personal modification later.
With our model fully assembled, here’s a view from the port (left) side. You can see how seamlessly the top decks fit, here resting on the azure tile layer.
And here’s a view from the front.
Let’s take a look at the lounge now. It features two oversized lime-green sofa-corner chairs with a glass coffee table. Shelf speakers presumably pick up audio signal from a nearby smart phone. Above hangs a sizable flatscreen display. But, stealing the show here is the amazing view through a combined picture window and glass floor. Brilliant!
The natural way for someone to play with this area would, of course, be with the upper level removed; so they can get their fingers in there and see what's happening. However, I was curious what it was like inside with the “roof on” so-to-speak. So, after setting up the characters, I closed up the catamaran and jammed my phone inside for a shot. This revealed a serious lack of clearance into the bunks. The girls would need to wriggle and crawl into their beds – I hope they’re not claustrophobic! Standing up in the bathroom is a no-go for them, except when the upper levels are removed.
A central feature of the main deck is a the small pool or hot-tub. It has a fun glass front and a waterfall fountain. While it may seem outrageous to have a pool on a sailboat, it’s not entirely unheard of on luxury super-yachts.
The water-slide is perhaps the least realistic feature, but it allows for some lively play. Its lower half is hinged and can swing open to access the garage. A clip and rod secure this closed.
With the jet-ski inside, it’s a pretty tight fit. Extracting it is tricky without tipping the whole catamaran and shaking the smaller craft out. In reality, I don’t know how this garage would work; but once the top levels of our boat are removed, I’m less likely to wonder. Now the jet-ski is simple to access.
There isn’t a designated place for the banana boat on board, but we can assume that it was docked at our destination or perhaps towed behind the cat. The construction of it looks a little clunky, but it's a fun idea!
Well, Olivia has now had a long day of recreation and picture taking. It’s time for a rest!
Back at home, she can re-visit these good times by making a photo collage for her scrapbook…
Inspired by my mini-friend's work above, I actually dug up a few of my own [genuine] Polaroid pictures from a catamaran trip and made my own collage. No waterslide or hot-tub for us; but we enjoyed delicious lobster and explored a small island!
I’m happy to say this set met my expectations, which were high. The play materials easily captured my imagination and I love the "floating dollhouse" aspect. There are so many fun things for the characters to do here; and relaxing places for them sit back and unwind… If I were on their voyage, I don’t know how I would decide what to do next! I can’t wait to bring Andrea, Mia and Emma on board for them to enjoy some leisure time also. Their new beachy-themed sets will combine well with this one. And while this set does repeat many features of Dolphin Cruiser, the Sunshine Catamaran is a worthy replacement with its own distinct personality. It was a fun build with nice features and an appealing color scheme. ...Speaking of “a-peel-ing." Bye-bye, Liam! I hope we see you again soon. ;-)
Note: All exclusive parts mentioned in the colours noted were applicable at the time this review was posted. Parts may be available in other colours and sets after the post of this review. Brickset and BrickLink were use to verify this information.