We sailed the Carnival Pride on 26 May 2013 out of Baltimore, MD. This was our third time on the PRIDE because the ship is less than a 30 minute drive from our house in MD, and thus very convenient (without worrying about cost of flights, and of course baggage weight limitations on flights).
The PRIDE Overall:
The PRIDE is well maintained, but not considered state of the art when comparing it to the newer cruise ships available. We are still amazed by the variation of reviews, not just on the PRIDE, but for many ships for which we read reviews. Our assessment is that expectations for cruises exceed what cruise lines can actually deliver, beyond maybe an 80-90 percent customer satisfaction range. Reviews today need to be taken in light of what mega-liners, which are servicing 2,000 to 5,000 people per cruise, are there to offer you as a vacation choice. These cruises are not (despite their attempts at advertising the contrary) trend setters in personal one-on-one attention, catering to very specific or unique needs with flawless attention to detail, nor providing truly world class cuisine. These are however high throughput, 80-90 percent solutions that will appeal to the highest percentage of passengers during any one week cruise. Thus, if you regularly eat at high end restaurants (e.g. weekly), frequently travel to exotic locations well known for near endless activities and attractions, or gambling, or prefer the quiet laid-back vacation of a secluded high end resort, then you might be disappointed with any cruise. Couple of tips to ensure you start-off right on a cruise:
1. Don't leave Baltimore, nor any port north of Virginia, between October and March. Why? It's cold. The air is going to be cold, the pool water will be cold and most places you visit will be colder than usual. This is not rocket science...really.
2. Food Quality and Selection: Lunch on a cruise ship will not be comparable to Cheesecake Factory, PF Changs and Maggianos. Dinner on a cruise ship will not routinely compare to Ruth Chris, the PRIME Rib, III Forks or McCormick & Schmidt. But, you should likely not have expectations of this level of quality on a cruse ship serving 2,000 to 5,000 passengers per meal). Cruise ships have to provide food that appeals to 2000 to 5000 passengers, and do so all week long with variety. In doing that, they can't put individual attention to each and every plate leaving the kitchen. So, have an expectation that the food will be good, it will be served hot, and will be of a good enough selection for you to choose something that you will like.
3. Service: If you expect great service, but don't offer recognition of great service in the form of a small token of appreciation (i.e. a tip) when you get it, then you won't like the service on a cruise ship. In fact, you'll likely not be pleased with the service anywhere you go. Suggestion: Tip each server, and your room steward, on the first encounter with them. This will serve you well for the entire cruise.
4. Smoking: The PRIDE allows smoking in parts of the Casino, and on deck nine but only on the starboard side of the ship at the most forward open space pool. That equates to only about 10 percent of the ship's open space for smokers. If you smoke, there is not a problem finding a place. If you don't smoke, there are plenty of ways to stay away from it, especially given 90 percent of the ship does not allow smoking. There are some non-smokers that complain about smoke in the Casino. We never saw any abuse of the smoking policy, and the air always seems of acceptable quality. And, when you compare the number of people at the smoking permitted games, versus those at non-smoking games, its really a matter of economics. The smokers played more games. This has been commented before, so no surprise to some there.
Ok, with the above conditions set, here is how things went, and can go.
Embarkation: Baltimore is the peak of embarkation efficiency. Without having VIP Check-in, from the time we arrived at the parking lot to getting onboard was about 35 minutes. Just impressive.
PRIDE Fit, Finish and current state:
Cleanliness: Its a clean ship. At no time do you feel that the staff is "shorting" on the cleaning process. In fact, during the entire cruise there are crew members engaged in cleaning every facet of this ship every second through the day. High marks here to the PRIDE crew.
Interior Decorations and Design: There are many comments about the art work displayed throughout the ship, most centered around the art work lacking clothing when created by the artist(s). Our comment to this is that yes, some of that exists. But not to the extent that anyone should be offended. And, as a passing comment, we don't go on a cruise to study the body parts exposed on posted art work, nor the various statues on the ship. We have a lot more to focus on during our cruise than such things.
Current State: While kept in its best form, its time for the PRIDE to be upgraded/updated. Many cruise ships today have amenities and dining options that the PRIDE sorely lacks. It needs a Carnival 2.0 upgrade very soon to remain competitive in a very aggressive market.
Service: We had great service everywhere on this ship. Every server in every venue called us out by our first names (in their terms, that equates to "Mr. (read first name)" and "Miss(read first name)". For those who experienced other than that level of service and recognition on prior cruises, the word "TIPPING" might be applicable. We recommend reasonable tipping, not every time nor at every meal, but enough to show you appreciate their efforts. In doing so, you'll likely experience a level of service beyond your expectations on a cruise.
Stateroom: We were on the starboard side of the 7th deck in a balcony room. The staterooms are nice, with good space and lots of closet space for four bags of luggage to be stored, plus all our clothes. Joe, our steward, kept the room meticulous and the ice constantly replenished. He was great. Our advice, a cruise is not a cruise without having that balcony. Morning coffee and evening drinks (ok, really late evening / early, early morning drinks!!!), are just great on the balcony. And, seeing the sights during the day and during port arrival and departure are also a large advantage.
Dining: We always eat breakfast and lunch at the Mermaid buffet on the Lido deck, and have dinner in the Main Dining Room (MDR), with the exception that we have one dinner at Davids, their specialty steak house.
MDR: Food in the MDR is very good. It was always served hot, was correctly seasoned and of sufficient quantity that one serving would suffice. However, you can have more than one serving of anything, to include appetizers, soups, main courses and deserts. In fact, you can have multiple servings of each. Do not be afraid, nor be even slightly ashamed, to ask for anything you want. Remember, the other passengers on the ship, and the crew, will most likely never see you again. So, who cares what they think? If you want two soups, order two soups!! If you want the lobster, and the PRIME Rib or BBQ Ribs, order both. On this cruise, we chose anytime dining for the first time (we normally choose the early dining at 6:00 pm). While there were advantages to this, particularly in light of getting a table for two at every meal, its really apparent Carnival, or maybe just the PRIDE, doesn't have anytime dining down to a science yet. Wait time for a table can be 15 minutes to 30 minutes (not bad really, but need to be prepared for that). And, given you are eating at times different that the main seating at 6:00 pm or 8:00 pm, the staff seems out of sync in attending to the main seating patrons, and fitting you in between their courses. Also, its hard to establish a relationship with your servers given your table section can change every night (they are fitting "anytime diners" in when and where tables open). We will have to really evaluate doing that again.
Lunch Buffet: Always a good enough selection to find something tasty. Food quality drops as compared to the MDR, but hey, its a buffet! We are not hot dog and hamburger folks, so highlights of the buffet are: 1) Carving station (ham, roast beef, roast pork alternate on select days, and are always very good and served with very good sauces for each (if you want the sauces)), 2) Chinese station, 3) The Deli, 4) the Salad Bar and 4) Caribbean Station. The pizza station in the buffet area is OK, but Carnival has changed the selections and how they make the pizza, and its not a good change. Funny though, there are people eating it all day, and until late at night, so enough people still like it. We noticed the change.
Davids Steakhouse (the PRIDE's specialty restaurant): The charge is now $35 additional per person. The food is outstanding, the service unmatched anywhere and its all in all very comparable to really high end steak houses anywhere in the world (although we think the service is better here). Our highlights...the escargots, the shrimp cocktail, the filet mignon, the lobster and the prime rib steak and the side dishes of sautéed mushrooms and creamed spinach with garlic. Just a great dinner overall, and worth the money. Another suggestion here....for an additional $20.00, you can order another main course for sharing. We called about that ahead of time. Reason: We both wanted steak, but also had a "hankering" for lobster. So, we each got our steaks of choice, and for the additional $20 we ordered the lobster tail to share. This was a great choice.
There are plenty of activities every day. If you can't find something to do, you are not looking for it.
Pools: There are three outdoor pools on the PRIDE, with plenty of seating by the pool and the deck above to satisfy most passengers. The only dissatisfied passengers seemed to be those who arrive at the pool at noon or later. Hint: Its busy by 11:30 am., so get there before 11:00 am and you will find a chair. If you want a chair very close to the pool, then be there between 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Chair Saving: Equates to putting towels or belongings on a chair to save it for later. This is "bad form"! It didn't happen much this cruise, so good to see that. Also, Carnival will collect towels that have been sitting idle without anyone in the chair for 30 mins. And, if you think the crew won't know, other passengers will and they will alert someone to it. It was great to see this happen a couple of times. The rule is simple..if you want a chair by the pool, get to the pool and be there to use it. If you want to save a chair, be prepared to have someone else sitting in it when you arrive because its likely now more than ever that the crew, not those sitting in your chair, will have collected your towel and belongings if you attempted to save a chair for 30 mins or more, without using it. We always get to the pool around 9:00 am to 9:30 am, and have the pick of any place we would like to sit. On three days, we were the only people in the pool (for a small amount of time) at 9:30 am.
Nighttime Shows: The main shows with the singers and dancers are advertised as "Broadway style". Sorry, no Broadway shows here! Those on Broadway, in Vegas or Atlantic City and even most in your local night clubs and bars have little to fear in losing their jobs to the dancers and singers onboard the ship. Once clause: try dancing and/or singing while moving at 20 knots, with the ship moving with the seas and the currents "nudging" the ship. Comedy shows - there are generally Ok, and worth the time seeing. We saw a collection of each during the cruise, and you'll likely find one or more to your liking.
Casino: Good choice of games, video machines, etc. Again, many are not the newer generation of slots or video poker, as example, so we again think the PRIDE needs a visit to the ship yard for an overall upgrade. Smoking is permitted in certain sections, and at half the bar and half the tables near the bar. Non-smoking sections are separated by a fair amount of space from that of the smoking sections.
The gym is well equipped, and rarely crowded. We noticed this in passing only, because we didn't use it. Something about getting up and going to the gym while on a cruise ship that really doesn't fit the top eighteen priorities we have in mind while cruising.