My college roommate and I decided to go on a cruise as a much needed vacation and a year-belated graduation celebration. I have cruised twice out of baltimore on both Royal Caribbean ships and she was a first time cruiser. We decided on the Pride because of port location/avoiding obnoxious air fares, the lower price than any Royal Caribbean cruise, and because I really didn't want to sail on the same ship a 3rd time (The Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas are basically identical) I was nervous to switch to Carnival after wonderful experiences with Royal but it was too good to pass up.
We were those people who blatantly disregarded the email Carnival sent out about not arriving early and got there at 11:00 but we certainly were not alone. We got through security and check in ridiculously fast and then waited to board the ship with everyone else for about 45 minutes. they told us they weren't going to board us until 12:30 but it seemed we started for the ship at about 12:15, we were really too busy talking to the people sitting around us to notice how long we actually waited, it was nice. Once getting on the ship we did have to wait until 1:30 to get into our room and ditch our carry ons but that was no big deal. We had food and drinks in hand within 20 minutes of being on board. It was a pleasant surprise because from what i remember Royal Caribbean wouldn't serve drinks until we set sail, not that we cared either way! Muster drill was over quick and the activities began right after before dinner!
The stateroom was your typical cruise cabin, actually almost identical to a Royal Caribbean cabin, just arranged differently. We had an ocean view room with a nice big window. The beds were nice and comfortable, a little small, but I am used to sharing a twin with my dog at home so i had no issue. The bathrooms are comically small, but thats part of the fun of a cruise! The water pressure in the shower was amazing! I was obsessed with the bath robes they have in the room, it was so cozy to get ready in the morning with one on, its silly but I enjoy the little things!
Also they have real T.V. stations on the ship! I thought this was cool and it helped from the feeling of being totally cut off from the real world. On the two cruises I went on before Royal only had movies, the cruise ship stations and then a couple faux stations that played weird news reels and E! True Hollywood stories. The only thing i missed was a station that had a map and the location of the ship in relation to where it was headed that Royal Caribbean always had. Not having that really left us feeling like we had no idea where we were in the middle of nowhere!
Our stateroom attendant Errol was fantastic and friendly and so nice. One night we were in the room changing and getting some stuff ready for our first port of call the next day when he wanted to come in and turn our beds down, when he saw us leaving a little later he asked if we wanted him to go ahead and hurry and do it before he got off, We insisted he did not have to do so and he was so grateful. It was a lovely reminder of how wonderful most of the people are working so hard on the cruise ships. And also a reminder of how they deserve and appreciate kindness in return.
The ship was really cool and ultra-decorated, a change from the Royal Caribbean ships I have been on. I will say, I prefer the openness of the Royal ships with the big open atrium with huge windows in the center of the ship but it wasn't like I felt confined or anything. I loved all the renaissance themed decorations, but we definitely heard many many comments about all the naked artwork and statues everywhere. I don't understand why it was such a big issue, especially since there was a clear theme on the entire ship, and we all have naked bodies, but whatever!
There was a water slide, basketball court, and mini golf course on the top deck which i thought were cool, but the top decks pretty much belonged to the kids exclusively. We enjoyed looking out of the observation deck at the front of the ship, once we were up there and saw a dolphin swimming along with the ship! The lounges for all the activities were all comfy and had plenty of seating most of the time. A few exceptions for the more popular events. The butterflies lounge was the only place that you had to really fight for a seat early. The sports bar was cool and I enjoyed being able to catch a little bit of a Capitals game at the start of the NHL playoffs. There were lots of fellow Caps fans on board so that was fun!
The ship was FREEZING most of the time, total abuse of air conditioning going on. I remembered this from my last cruise and knew to come prepared with long sleeve cardigans and a sweatshirt, but i did find myself wishing i had long pants on a couple of the chilliest evenings. I hate being cold so I must say I did not enjoy that aspect of the ship.
The Lido deck/Mermaid Grille was a little bit difficult to maneuver around and way too spread out, but the food offered was delicious. I especially liked the sandwich deli. The burgers were also good but the line was way too long most of the time. They offered different styles of foods in the other lines that rotated every day at the other grille stations (Asian, Italian, Caribbean, etc).
Breakfast was a little disappointing but I'm not much of a eggs/bacon/sausage kind of girl-more of a bagel and pastry kind. They had crappy bagels (but good cream cheese!) and their danishes were all sub-par, but it didnt ruin my day by any means.
Dinner in the Normandie was terrific most nights. I particularly liked the pastas they had. They had some exotic dishes too that were cool but I'm not adventurous enough to try. I didn't always find a starter I wanted, but that was OK because i was always stuffed after the main course. Desserts were OK. The Warm Chocolate Melting Cake was AMAZING but very rich, so I didn't want it every night and other than that there wasnt much that I enjoyed. But again, it didn't ruin my dinner.
This was the only point of disappointment on the cruise for me. I bought the soda package for access to diet coke and ginger ale if i ever got nauseous from drinking- good thing i did with rough waters late in the week, even the prescription patch couldn't save me from seasickness!- I found it very difficult to get a soda. At lunch i would have to get up and go wait at a bar in line behind others wanting the same thing and only one bartender. (Royal Caribbean has many many staff members walking around the lunch area and asking if they can get anything from the bar for you) Dinner was probably worse in my opinion, because the service was awful and its not like you can go get it yourself. Your table waiters never ask if you want anything but water to drink, instead they have a bar waiter for multiple tables who may or may not come to your table in a timely fashion to even ask you if you want anything from the bar, much less actually bring the drink to you before you are halfway through the meal. I could deal with this and just get a soda in the evening sometime either before or after dinner most nights, but on the day where the waters were at their roughest I needed a ginger ale desperately, I was feeling so sick and the only thing helping was to continually throw ginger ale down (the dining room was at the back of the ship where you could feel it the worst) After I had our waiter flag the bar waitress down because i begged him to, she still did not bring me the ginger ale even after bringing another one to a woman at our table. It was not until one of my table mates saw her passing as i sat with my head down and yelled at her that i finally got one, but honestly the damage was done, i could barely eat i was so sick. The next night my roommate had a great idea to get one from a bar and just bring it into dinner myself, but I find it sad that we felt we had to plan ahead to obtain a simple drink before eating in a formal dining room where they are supposed to be providing you service.
Another point of contention, they have a waitress bring around shooters before dessert every night. $4 for a shooter that was no more liquid than a shot glass. I would rather save the money for a real drink later that night. My roommate and I politely declined one night at dinner and the waiter MADE A FACE at us. A nasty "whatever" kind of face! I was SHOCKED and speechless. One of the most wonderful aspects of a cruise is how nice and wonderful the staff treats you the entire time. This was absolutely ridiculous and now I regret not immediately saying something to the maitre di but I was just so taken aback at the time.
To end this section on a positive note, the mixed drinks they offer on board were all FANTASTIC. My favorite was the Kiss on the Lips: Frozen, Mango puree, peach schnapps, and grenadine. Delicious! Drinks were about $8 on average which I didn't think was too bad, but I am from the D.C. area, land of all things overpriced!
PORTS OF CALL:
PORT CANAVERAL/ORLANDO: This was actually the one port that pretty much sealed the deal on us booking this particular cruise. We were SO excited that this port offered the Islands of Adventure excursion and gave us the opportunity to finally get to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! We were so thrilled we could go on a cruise AND go to Harry Potter World in one trip, both being huge fans of the books. I would totally recommend this excursion to anyone, though it was pricey. The bus ride into Orlando was listed to be an hour in the info. It didn't seem quite that long to me either way, but the walk through the Port Canaveral terminal did, that place is HUGE! It makes the Baltimore terminal seem like a little garage! I digress, the bus let us off right at the gate of Universal Studios and we made our way over to Islands of Adventure. Now, we didn't try to access the other park, but the excursion said we would only have access to Islands of Adventure, but it sure seemed to me we could access both sections of the park, but i could be wrong. We were there right when the park opened and started booking it to HP World to beat the lines. (As did EVERYONE else) That being said, the first thing we did was head to The Forbidden Journey and we managed to not wait at all in line, which was actually almost a disservice because there is so much to look at in the castle. The Forbidden Journey ride is EPIC, as is the rest of HP World. I will spare you because I could go on forever. Islands of Adventure was also a great size park to do in one day without feeling like we missed anything. Obviously, we were really only there for Harry Potter but we had time to thoroughly explore the other areas later in the day. Getting back on the ship was really fast and easy. I almost got stopped by security because one guy thought my new wand was a weapon seeing it in the scanner but the other guy was like she has Harry Potter's Wand its cool!! Hilarious.
NASSAU: In Nassau we decided to do the Discover Atlantis tour because the resort is crazy expensive to actually stay at so why not? We decided it was better than trying to navigate Nassau alone dealing with getting "cabs" and such things. We booked the late tour that didn't leave the pier until 1:30 so we had a couple hours to do some shopping close by. Inside the Nassau terminal thing there were some really nice vendors who weren't pushy and who had some really nice art, candles, foods, and all sorts of things to offer. We ventured out into the main shopping district and found a real straw market and quickly left and came back. Neither of us were comfortable with the crazy sales people in those straw markets. it was really cool to see all the stuff they had to offer but its just not worth dealing with them trying to pull you into their stalls. We did all of our shopping in the terminal and I had no trouble finding something for everyone in my family there. I got a Little Mermaid straw basket for myself and a Bahamas one for my sister from this sweet little 17 year old girl who quickly sewed names on each of the baskets while making pleasant conversation about life on the Bahamas and what it was like for us in the USA. It was fun talking to her and so much better than the straw market!
Random side note, after shopping, before we met on the pier for the Atlantis tour we had about five minutes, we made it back to the ship, through customs security, up to our room to drop off our purchases and back with time to spare. Thats how easy it is.
The bus ride to Atlantis was awesome, our bus driver was not only extremely informative as we drove along, but also hilarious and very witty. We learned a lot about the Bahamas in the short drive over to the resort, it was very interesting. Atlantis was ridiculous and amazing. The tour was great and informational and totally worth the money in my opinion. Inside the resort is breathtaking and the aquariums are quite impressive. After the tour she pointed out all the other areas we had access to and urged us to see everything so we set off to see all the different animals there. My roommate and i actually got lost the place is so extensive. I loved being able to see all the aquariums and marine life, they really had some amazing exhibits. My favorites were the sea turtles and the predator tunnel of course. It also seemed like a lot of the kids on the tour really enjoyed seeing the aquariums from what i observed, which totally would have been me as a kid! When we wanted to go back to the ship, we found the buses (amidst the hustle of some dignitary coming to the resort-someone said it was the Bahamian Prime Minister) and were back on the ship in no time.
FREEPORT: Unfortunately we weren't able to dock in Freeport due to high winds. In the morning we could tell something was brewing but were totally shocked by the announcement. We were supposed to do an open water dolphin swim so we were very disappointed, but after going through the storm soon after the announcement, there is no question in my mind that they made the right call. High Winds, deck chairs going into the ocean, Huge waves, sea swells higher than our room, and the ship not just rocking, but being jerked and jarred suddenly at some points. After the initial announcement I feel like they waited too long to fill us in on the details of the weather and what to expect and even where the hell we were, but just as i was complaining about it in a text home, the captain came over the speaker and gave us a report. I feel like people must have complained because then he did come on a few times a day. But really all the info in the world would not save us from the terrible conditions. It was not fun. The prescription sea sickness patch saved me for a little bit, but by mid day the nausea got me. People were sick everywhere huddled in balls, Ginger ale was liquid gold. I felt the sorriest for the kids who were miserable, they just didn't understand. The only thing that helped was distracting myself with the activities on board...
ACTIVITIES ON BOARD: My roommate and I pretty much squeezed in every trivia competition we could every day. This was my favorite part of the whole cruise. I love trivia, and they always have such fun categories and themes. We also participated in the Super Trivia tournament, in which we formed a team with other cruisers and competed over the four sea days. Our team ended up winning the entire competition and we won a bottle of champagne and the highly-coveted "Ship on a Stick" for all the members.
I cannot say enough about the Activities staff on board the Carnival Pride. They were ALL amazing, friendly, hilarious, kind, and tolerant of some of the more "out spoken" (read annoying and/or know-it-all) cruisers. Cruise Director Kirk, Assistant Cruise Director Robin, Sassy, Lisa, and Saul, my absolute favorite, were truly the highlight of the entire vacation. We both thoroughly enjoyed all the game shows, trivia competitions, and other miscellaneous activities they put on the entire cruise. We found ourselves going to activities we had no previous interest in just because we knew they would be hosting and loved every second of them! Saul hosting the Guess That Song contests and singing and dancing along with the tracks had me in tears i was laughing so hard! I have always had wonderful activities staff members on both of my previous cruises but they were the best by FAR! I found myself sad to leave them behind at the end of the cruise. They are what got me through the seasickness and kept my mind off of it by constantly making us break out in fits of laughter. They are the biggest reason I would rush to do another cruise on the Pride soon!
All in all I think Carnival and Royal Caribbean are pretty even, and would probably give the edge to Carnival because of the lower prices. (Especially with Carnival's troubles, you can get some crazy deals!) I can't wait to book another cruise with either cruise line!