This was our 6th cruise and first cruise on Carnival. We left from Baltimore on January 13th. Our other cruises were with RC. We were hesitant to cruise with Carnival because of the "party ship" reputation. We cruise to relax and are not big party animals, but a great last minute deal from a port we could drive to had us packing our bags. We booked late on a guarantee inside cabin and was expecting a room in the bowels of the ship. We were pleased to find out our cabin was on deck 7 nearly mid ship.
Since many on board asked us our opinion on Carnival compared to RC I will give my opinion here.
Debarkation was quick and uneventful, and I noticed no differences with the two lines. I do think $15 per day to park at the port is out of line. $10 would have been more palatable.
The Pride is like many have described here so I won't waste much time retreading over that. The decor is dark but elegant, I didn't care for it, but it didn't bother me either. The layout of the ship was a bit strange, we felt like we zig zagged from one side of the ship to the other when traveling in the public areas. RC gets the nod from us here, but don't base a decision on our preferences over the decor, to each his own and all ships are different.
We had an inside cabin and it was larger than our other cruises. I would definitely give Carnival the nod for cabins. We were introduced to our room steward on the first night of the cruise and did not see our room steward the rest of the cruise, not once. This was not what we were used to, on past cruises our cabin steward knew us by name and always was asking if we needed anything. That being said, the job our invisible room steward performed was top notch. Maybe the best of any cruises we have been on, we joked that he had hidden cameras in the room and monitored all our needs.
The Normandy dining room was a bit disappointing. Visually it was not as nice as our other cruises and our 6pm dinner time waitstaff was the worst we have ever encountered. Talking to others and our own observation led us to believe that ours was not the norm however. Food was always a longer wait than those around us, and at least one person from our table had mistakes on their orders every night. Drinks ie, water, tea, lemonade etc. were not topped off and never came on two occasions except for the glasses of water. We did not have a dedicated head waiter and the assistants rotated around; we counted about four different individuals. Our service on this cruise was poor compared to the other cruises. When taking into account typical cruise line food, Carnival, though good, was average. It seems RC was a bit more elegant with their food and presentations. We did not care for the Dining room for breakfast but some of the lunches there were better than the dinner food.
The buffets and other free eating establishments were better on Carnival than our experiences on RC. Food was plentiful and always available. I thought the recipes were a bit bland, but cooking for thousands in a buffet is difficult to please everyone. The buffet could be crowded at times but we had little trouble getting food or seats, we always beat the crowds or arrived after the crowds. We liked the hamburgers and fix in's at the grill the best.
We went to our first premium dining restaurant on a cruise when we went to David's for one night. We were not impressed, it was just O.K and I would save my money in the future. My wife ordered the fillet and it was very well prepared, I should have gotten that; I ordered a strip and it was one fatty piece of meat. I could do better on my grill at home and the local meat cutter. The apps were good but no better than the MD room, just a larger portion. The waitstaff were good and it was all female, not a male in sight the entire time we were there.
Entertainment was a bit disappointing as the fun ship was not as fun as the RC activities and entertainment. On our other cruises the cruise director and immediate staff are always out and about talking to people, leading activities and making sure things were fun. We hardly saw the cruise director but his voice wafted throughout the ship speakers from time to time and the activities were not all that fun. We saw 4 comedians, 1 was very good, one was good, on was fair and one poor. Karaoke was fun and I normally don't care for that. The last night's show was the highlight of the shows(they used fellow cruisers). The shows, dancers and singers were not very good. I don't know maybe it was the time of the year but the entertainment felt flat. The seating in the theater was easier to find spots than RC, I don't know if it was because they seated more people or more people skipped the entertainment.
We are not drinkers, but we did notice the price of drinks was a little bit higher on Carnival.
The ports of call were not that good, they could do better if they skipped Freeport and made a stop somewhere in the Florida Keys.
Debarkation was a bit faster with RC, but it was pretty much the same procedure.
All things being equal I would choose RC over Carnival, but the differences were slight. If I can get another good deal or the ports of call and timing all lined up I would have no reservations sailing Carnival again.