Surely nobody who has sailed on Carnival would characterize such a cruise as a "luxury" vacation. You get someone else to make your bed and prepare your food; that's about it. Any delusions you may have about being on a "luxurious" vacation certainly vanish the moment you hit the Lido deck for meals at the cafeteria-like "Mermaid's Grille." For us, any such delusions vanished at the point of embarkation. The line looked very much like that at an airport for the coach passengers boarding in the post-9/11 era of add-on fees, rude airline employees, and harsh TSA handling. Except that the people in line to board the Pride looked more like those you'd see waiting to board a Greyhound bus.
We'd sailed on Carnival before (but most recently about ten years ago). The line has gone down. There's less effort taken to make passengers comfortable and keep them entertained. There are fewer (and less appealing) on-board activities, less nighttime entertainment, and poorer-quality shows and entertainers. The quality of the food is underwhelming, to put it politely. If you aren't expecting to be impressed with what's on offer and know how to have yourself a good time, certainly you can do so on a Carnival ship. But that good time will be due largely to your own efforts.
Embarkation: If you live within a couple of hours of Baltimore (we're closer than that), it feels wonderfully convenient to be able to drive there and park just yards from the cruise ship. What's not so nice: being charged $15 per night, to be paid in full upon entering, in order to park your car. There are no practical alternative methods of transportation to the port, and the Port of Baltimore takes full advantage of this.
After getting through the cattle line to board, walking up the five stories to actually enter the ship was a workout. A rolling carry-on bag is a must.
Ship decor: Others are correct that the Baroque decorations are dark and add to the feeling that the ship is aging and in need of an upgrade. I didn't notice any nipple-less nudes or giggling children (and this was a Carnival cruise, so there were plenty of kids about). I didn't care much for the decor, but mainly that was due to the general darkness and eye fatigue; I simply tired of all that ornate artwork.
Room: We had a balcony room, not capacious but what we'd expect on a cruise ship. A little short on hanger and drawer space. The feather pillows were soft but smelly; I used the synthetic pillow in the closet. With just one outlet in the room, none in the bathroom, an outlet strip is a must: it was our first purchase (at Winn Dixie) on disembarking at Port Canaveral. Do not put perishables in the mini-fridge, as its temperature is variable and not reliably cold; it's really just a cooler. The room safe did not work, and the lock to the balcony door was broken.
Room steward: Generally good; he learned our names on the first day. But toiletries were not renewed (not even bar soap) until I left a note asking for them. Also needed to leave a note to request a spare roll of toilet paper. Oddly, door tags ("Do not disturb" and the like) were missing from the cabin.
Dining: Food is a big part of cruising, and though Carnival has increased the ease of access to food since our last cruise, much expanding the hours of availability of service on the Lido deck, the quality has gone down. On the Lido, there's abundant food and it's often quite appealing to the eye, but nearly tasteless. The made-to-order pizza and omelets were disappointing, as were the Chinese and Italian buffets. Most of all, the cattle-car, bargain-basement feel of a Carnival cruise is more pervasive at meals on the Lido deck than at any other time. It's very much like dining at a cafeteria, only worse, because nobody's paying, everyone's grabbing, and the atmosphere is very much that of a free-for-all. On port days, after reboarding, you'll find it almost impossible to find a free table.
The Normandie dining hall was much better; you were able to feel that you were on a cruise. Not a luxury cruise, no, but a cruise. The quality of the food was much better (though not quite "fine dining") and the presentation and service were good. The dress code was largely ignored; we saw people in very casual dress, even on formal night. Unless your cruise wardrobe is otherwise all swimwear or shorts, then, other than for formal night, do not bother to bring clothes specifically for the dining room. We had the open-seating dinner option and would stick with that. The Lido deck was so bad that we would have preferred to eat in the Normandie for breakfast and lunch as well, but didn't like being seated with strangers, which Carnival does, for the convenience of its staff, at breakfast and lunch.
Entertainment: Worst I've experienced on a cruise ship. The evening shows, a highlight for us in the past, were a real disappointment. On two nights, they weren't on the schedule at all; on a third, the second "dress-up" night, the show was canceled due to rough seas. The shows we did see were amateurish and unimaginative; the dancing was okay, the singing pathetic. The cruise director was also called upon to do an inordinate amount of selling doing so-called "entertainment" times. As an entertainer himself, he'd rate on the low side of average for a cruise director, in our opinion.
On-board activities: There's a certain corniness and inanity to be expected in cruise-ship activities, but the ones on the Pride seemed lame even considering. A big problem, I think, was with the crew conducting the activities. The only person we were impressed with was Levi, a muscular, black New Zealander who looks somewhat older than his twenty-two years (he showed his driver's license during one game). He seems shy, but his diffidence is appealing. Not so with those who shared the gaming duties with him--two young women from Canada who had a definite air of arrogance and not wanting to do what they were doing. Carnival's got to watch it: it's beginning to show that they know they're a bargain-basement line, because they are treating their passengers accordingly. Even the ship's officers were often rude, not yielding space when walking two or three abreast even in narrow corridors.
Ports: We didn't purchase any ship excursions, and did little on our own. We took the cruise to relax, not to shop or sightsee, so we can offer little here. There were among our group two "mean girls" (women in years) who thought it would be fun to ditch an elderly member of our family to fend for herself while they went off on their own at the last two ports. Hope you enjoyed your laugh, "girls"; you've disinherited yourselves. No Lladro or bone china or jewelry for you. As for us, when we did venture out, we did so on our own and could have done better. At Nassau, we took a narrated boat tour to Paradise Island, which we enjoyed.
Smoking: Surely the time has come for smoke-free cruising. We got so tired of walking through the smoky casino to get to the dining room or the Taj Mahal (where shows were staged). Smoke also contaminated the air in other spaces, such as in the dining areas on the Lido, and could often be smelled even where the smokers couldn't be seen. I suppose Carnival thinks people won't gamble or drink if they can't smoke. I think they're wrong. Do everyone a favor, Carnival, and let us sail smoke-free.
Disembarkation: We had three bags, so, following the instructions of the cruise director, who says in the cabin video that you can't use "Self-Assist" if you have multiple bags, we put our bags in the corridor the night before as we've done on past cruises. Result: we had to wait well over three hours before being permitted to disembark. The longest wait we've ever had to get off a ship. And we had to watch many "self-assisters" getting off with as many bags (or more) as we'd brought. Thanks for the disinformation, Carnival. Words to the wise: bring spinner cases, for ease of handling, and use self-assist.
My parting shot from Carnival was a siren-like alarm (complete with flashing red lights!) that went off when they scanned my "sign and sail" card. I was asked to step out of the line without explanation--only momentarily, but it was quite an embarrassment. Turns out they had failed to clear out my "sign and sail" account, though I had a zero balance. No class, Carnival; no class.
Bottom lines: Carnival is okay if you know that you're not purchasing luxury with your cruise dollar. Departing from Baltimore is so convenient that we may do it again, just to relax, if we leave behind some of the more poisonous relatives next time. Other lines catering to middle-class cruisers cost considerably more, without sounding more than marginally better, so, if we decide to cruise again, it may well be with Carnival, just because it is a relatively cheap (if less than luxurious) getaway.
Bring spinner suitcases, an outlet strip, an alarm clock, and, in order not to weigh down your cases, just a few beverages, enough to last until Port Canaveral, where you can replenish.