We're recently back from the Carnival Pride's 2/24/13 run to the Bahamas from Baltimore. Overall we had a great time with plenty of relaxing and only minor complaints. We're in our late 30's/early 40's and were traveling with our 16 month old son, so our experiences and expectations may not be the norm. We were looking to get away and relax, while doing some fun things along the way. We got what we were looking for, and consider this to have been a very successful vacation!
We were scheduled to fly in to Baltimore from Maine on Sunday morning at 6, getting there at 7:30AM which we assumed would be perfect. A snowstorm was due Saturday night, so the airline called a weather advisory and allowed us to change our flight to Saturday morning at 10:30. The flight was uneventful, and we landed at 12, we rented a car and found a restaurant, Mama Lucias Cantina which was pretty good Italian. After lunch we made our way to the Sheraton which I had booked through priceline for a total of $75. The Sheraton was more than expected for the price (though no free breakfast), very clean and we dropped our bags there and made our way to Walmart to start in on the list of things we had made to get in Baltimore (diapers, soda, water to bring aboard etc)after that we just went back to the room and relaxed. The next morning we went to Bob Evans down the street for breakfast, went to Target for other last minute things, brought the car back to the airport (which is a total pain in Baltimore because the car rental agencies are several miles from the airport and you have to take shuttles... PITA with a little one in a stroller.)
Embarkation: After dropping off the car we took the shuttle back to the airport, and took a cab to the pier ($30 fixed price), arriving right at 1:30, the one time I DIDN'T want to get there as it in theory would have been the most crowded. There was a significant line to get through security, but it moved quickly and we were through in 1/2 an hour, then right through check in, and we were on board in less than 45 minutes total. WAY better than anticipated!
Ship: Lots has been said about the decor, which after seeing it I think is pretty silly... the decor is way over the top and pretty gaudy like most other cruise ships,and I found it to make it feel a bit closed in and claustrophobic, and it is a bit dark with a lot of bronze tone to the moldings etc, but to complain about the art would never occur to me... it's not pornographic in the slightest, there are some paintings with bare breasts... but that was the extent of it, nothing that I'd be embarrassed about with teen boys in the elevator with us. The one complaint I'd have is that the signage for the different common rooms are those light up "chasing" signs that change color, they're hard for me to read and virtually impossible for my color blind husband to decipher. I found the ship to be very clean and the layout of the spirit class ships is easy to navigate. We had a balcony stateroom and it was plenty big enough for the three of us. Our stewards were very good though they were not able to provide me with a foam mattress pad as I have had on all other cruises and the bed was very hard, to the point where my back went into spasm and I had to go to the ship's dr for the first time in 5 cruises! They did empty the mini bar into the cupboard when I asked them too, and we kept our soda and water in there, though it was not cold enough to trust milk in. We tipped well at the end as they always had lots of straightening up to do after my son, and they left us great towel animals every night.
Food: We sailed on Carnival in 2008 on the Fantasy and on that cruise we coined the phrase "ample and adequate" to describe the food. Maybe it was because I had very low expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised by the food. We always had good to very good meals, with a few disappointments and a few things standing out. (Short ribs were a disappointment, the pasta carbonara was delicious) We ate at David's the first night, with very early reservations. It was almost empty, at least on the main floor, but I found that this made me MORE self conscious about our son making any noise (even happy noise) as it stood out, but as Carnival does not offer any child care for any meal time hours for under 2 year olds, I think we handled it as best we could, and we made sure we were done before he got cranky. Davids was great. I have no complaints over that meal though I question the reviews that liken it to a $300 meal on shore, I think it matches closer to $100 dollar dinners we get locally, which is as it should be as it cost an additional $70 for the pair of us and replaces another meal you have already paid for (we weren't charged for my son who ate off my plate though they did also bring him a baked potato)I had the tomato salad, the french onion soup, the fillet and the apple tart. All were very good. We did get a free bottle of wine for going the first night, it was good as long as you let it rest a bit, quite acidic at first. We were allowed to take the bottle with us afterwards. We ate all breakfasts in the buffet with us finding a table and getting a high chair for my son first (they did have trays for the highchairs but sometimes you had to ask, I used sticky mats instead sometimes as it was faster and you had to wipe off the trays (sometimes they didn't seem clean) then one of us would go get food for ourselves and my son and upon return the other would go out for themselves. We always found something to eat on the buffet. Breakfast was pretty much the same every day with basic breakfast stuff, I could always find cut fruit and sliced cheese for my son in the continental breakfast section. I had pizza once, did not care for it the cheese was oddly salty and seemed like American cheese to me. I had a turkey panini at the deli one day which was delicious. We also ate at the grill one day as it was all we could find open on the Freeport day before we went ashore (11AM) the chicken tenders were quite good, and I really enjoyed the potato salad. My husband enjoyed the 24 hour soft serve, I had the strawberry frozen yogurt once which was like frozen strawberry quick .
We only went to one "Broadway" type show, and lasted 15 minutes. It was laughably bad, like a bad jr high performance, and was so ridiculously loud that though my son was enjoying the dancing, I was literally worried about his ears, and he checked out after a little while so we left. I've been on 4 other cruises, 3 NCL and one Carnival, this was way below the caliber of anything I've seen on a ship. I didn't hang out in any of the bars or lounges, but some of the musicians in these places seemed quite good as we walked by, and I might have stopped in a different situation (childless)
All the staff we encountered were wonderful. We had people fawning over my son the moment we walked into the dining room, with many servers we had never had, coming over to greet him by name. We clicked with one asst waitress the first night at dinner, and requested her every meal (we had any time dining) My son learned her name even, Elena! She was super helpful in making sure we got food quickly. My son eats just about anything, and she always brought him the steamed veggies out first so he had something to eat other than bread right away.
Camp Carnival: We brought our son to the "play time" hours the first sea day and stayed while he played with the toys for a while.. You have the option of staying and playing for free or leaving your under 2 yr old for $6 an hour The next day we dropped him off to get a little break, and he apparently had a good time for about 45 minutes, then they called us on the pager because he was crying and we went to pick him up. I would have tried again, but there were never other open hours available that we wanted free time, so didn't bother. The hours available were 8-10 on sea days and varied on port days. They also were open for under 2 from 10-3AM which we never used as we were asleep! My rating of 3 is due to there being NO meal time option for care for under 2s, it would have been really nice to have been able to feed my son at the buffet one night then had a nice dinner alone. I love spending time with my son, but one dinner alone would have been really nice too.
The bed was VERY hard, which exascerbated a back issue I've had before causing it to go into spasm. I went to the ships Dr the second sea day and he was nice, nothing I didn't know, but he was able to examine me and give me naproxen and Flexeril which is what I needed... cost $90 for the consult and $15 for the meds, I will submit to insurance which I think will go to my out of network deductble, and then will submit to my travel insurance which I think will reimburse me for it. They did charge it to the sail and sign.
Overall, we had a great time. We had some new experiences, we hung out a lot and just relaxed, and that was exactly what we were looking for. We got an amazing deal for a balcony which really made the trip that much better!
Notes for parents:
We brought a cheap $40 scenera carseat from Walmart that we got just for the trip, and our fullsize stroller and would do it again in a heartbeat. We used the car seat in the rental cars in Baltimore, Port Canaveral, and Baltimore again, and on the plane ride home. The car seat could rest on the canopy of the stroller so it didn't need to be carried separately, so it wasn't too much of a pain to lug around, and we always knew we had a clean, safe seat for him. You can gate check a car seat and stroller on flights for free. We took boxes of cheerios and fruit from the buffet for snacks later as sometimes it can be hard to find toddler appropriate food when you're looking. The in room announcements were turned off when we boarded and we left it that way... ifthey are on your stewrad can help you turn them off we didn't mind not hearing about all the things to do or buy and naps didn't get disturbed. We did bring a laptop and a few Sesame dvd's for some down time for my son. We brought an inflatable tub for the balcony and to use in the shower, but we never used it (too cold on sea days and we just used the handheld in the shower). I had my son in an Ergo for embarkation, made it way easier than the stroller and we just checked the stroller and the car seat with our luggage. We never used the stroller on board. Definitely recommend the balcony stateroom, was wonderful for naps/extra space as we definitely spent a lot more time in the cabin this time with the little one.