My wife and I returned today just in time to avoid the forecasted winter storm...a harsh reality check. This was our fifth cruise, fourth on Carnival, and was our second time on the Pride out of Baltimore; we previously sailed a Caribbean itinerary back in 2009 when Carnival first started sailing from B-more.
We enjoyed the facilities, venues, etc. on the Pride on both of our trips. There are very few significant changes to the ship between 2009-2014. The ship is very clean. I did not see any tattered carpets, drapes, or other cosmetic issues in easily noticeable areas. It takes a little while to notice that the ship is beginning to show its age, but some examples include the following: Portions of the exterior exhibit minor paint flaking, rusting, etc. The piano in the piano bar stopped turning some time ago, but it is a difficult fix, I was told. Only one of the outdoor hot tubs seems to work quite properly, and that one was always infested with children and could be likened to a cesspool. I believe the kiddee pool was also non-functional, which might help explain this.
We recently learned that the Pride will be headed for dry dock soon to receive maintenance and upgrades as part of the Carnival 2.0 program, so the nostalgia associated with our return more than compensated for any seemingly outdated aspects, or minor deferred maintenance issues, as I am confident these will be addressed later this year. They will be incorporating new food new entertainment venues/shows, and making enhancements to the engines so that they create less air pollution. I hope to see how it turns out. We saw the largest cruise ship in the world at the Freeport Dry Dock, and a new Norwegian ship that dwarfed the Pride, which emphasizes why these 2,0 changes are necessary to “keep up with the Joneses”
The boarding process went extremely well for us. We live within driving distance, which is a tremendous benefit compared to flying (the downside of course is that your first and last days at sea are going to be pretty cold if you sail in the winter). We purchased First to Fun which was a crucial and invaluable asset. We got there at 1:15 PM and were among the first on the ship. Boarding got started a little bit late, and by the time we got through registration the entire waiting room for non-priority people was full, and they were not advancing the line at all. It probably took hours for most people. We went right up to the Lido deck and might have been among the first 5 or 10 people there. By the time we finished eating it was a madhouse, but we just went and hung out on the Serenity deck for awhile (it was a very pleasant and warm day for Winter in Maryland), then we went down to our room and our luggage was already there since it was prioritized. We unpacked and went into Cruisin mode!
We did 6 pm early seating and ate there all but one night when we ate on-shore. We were seated a table with two other couples, and it was very nice eating with them, and socializing with them at other times during the trip. The service was great. We did have some knuckleheads try to steal our table one night, but we got them booted and the waiters quickly swapped out the entire place settings and table cloth, and they were extra careful to give us great service after that (I believe one of the other guests at our table chewed out the maître d afterwards for this and one or two other minor issues, which seems to have had an impact). The food was very good. I am not very picky, so I am not going to provide an in depth analysis of the food, but there is a nice variety of food and most of it is pretty good. I usually got a soup, one of the "Didja" items such as frog legs or something bizarre like that, and a daily special entrée, or the flat iron steak. I got the melted chocolate cake a couple times just on principle, but I am not a big dessert guy.
The late night food is limited to the grill, the pizza place and room service (which we never did). If you are in a hurry, the grill can provide a quick burger or hot dog, but it is nothing to write home about. If you have enough patience, the pizza is the way to go. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get one though, which is a drag, but it is hot, fresh, and good. It seems like they could do it much more efficiently by just cranking them out and allowing people to pick a premade pizza if you are not concerned about which kind it is. SO in the end, the best idea is to order a pizza and just eat some fries or a cookie while you wait.
Breakfast: The lido deck breakfast food was a good option for us on port days before we went on shore. Its not real fancy, but you are almost guaranteed to find something you are accustomed to eating for breakfast. Again, nothing to get too excited about, but a reliable source of sustenance. If you have time, the breakfast or brunch in the main dining room are the way to go. You might have to wait to get a private table, otherwise they will stick you with a rag-tag assortment of other people at a larger table, with a resulting social dynamic that can range from excellent to downright awkward. The food and service at breakfast are not quite on par with dinner. Perhaps this is because the servers don't have the same connection with these one-timer guests. But overall it is a leisurely way to kill some time in the morning when there isn't too much going on.
THE STAFF AND CREW:
The staff were great. Most of the bar tenders, waiters, and drink service staff were very friendly and attentive. There were a couple of bartenders/drink staff that I considered to be slow or inattentive, so I tended to avoid them. Other than that I can't think of a single example of a time when any staff or crew ignored or slighted me in any way. The photographers and shop clerks were very nice and not too overbearing. Our cabin cleaners were very nice and thorough. I enjoyed chatting with the crew members a few times, many of whom are from far-away places. They are all very chipper. We even encountered the Captain himself making the rounds, and he took the time to stop and chat with us briefly when he overheard my wife say "hey isn't that the captain?", before he was mobbed by other camera-wielding guests who seemed WAY more excited than I was to meet the captain! Great gesture though by the Captain to make himself accessible like that.
This was an off season cruise, and the crowd was very diverse in terms of age, nationality etc. It did strike me as a particularly subdued crowd, not a big party crowd. This was evidenced by a general lack of participation during certain events, such as the nightclub dance floor, games, piano bar, etc. That was fine with me though, as I am sure most guests were anticipating a laid back and relaxing trip. The comedians seemed to find the crowd rather lackluster as well. Most of the guests and crew seemed reasonably healthy. I only saw one visibly sick staff member, and a two sick guests whom we dubbed Bird Flu Guy and Typhoid Mary, and we dutifully avoided them to the extent possible. On the bright side, it seems as though smoking is less prevalent these days, you could almost breathe normally in the casino at times.
The core Entertainment Crew was made up of Kirk, the cruise director, his assistant Paulie and about three young ladies. They were very cheerful, patient, and positive as they led various group activities, the most popular of which seems to be group dances (think Macarena). Group dances are not my thing, but I got tricked into learning one of them by Paulie. It turned out to be pretty fun, so I would certainly recommend trying to learn at least one or two of them so you can jump in there. There was no outdoor calypso/caribbean-type band on the deck this trip, instead it was a DJ (hence all the dance songs). There is a sing-along piano lounge and two solo acoustic guitar players located at various places. A magician (Elton) joined the boat at the last port, and he was great. There was a lounge band which was stationed in the starry nights lounge, but it wasn’t really our style so We never really saw them. Previously the Starry Nights was the karaoke lounge. Now karaoke is in the bar right outside the dining room, which was a much different vibe, but it was a refreshing change. Great host there at karaoke, but the playlist is pretty ancient. There was a new activity called Superstar Live Karaoke where you can sing karaoke accompanied by the main ship band, which was very cool. There was also the Carnival Legends, where guests are selected to be performers on the main stage at the grand finale show on the last night. This is a great show, but is desperately in need of replacement after all these years for people who have seen it several times (along with several other of the primary entertainment shows and facilities). I am sure this will be part of the 2.0 upgrades. Nonetheless, we were highly entertained the entire time. I brought 4 books and planned to read quite a bit, but only read about 3 pages the entire time, if that is any indication.
THE PORTS OF CALL:
We had a good time at Port Canaveral, Nassau and Freeport. None of them had a tinder, which is fantastic so you can go right on shore. You can get off the ship and wander around Nassau and visit various historical sites, shopping, and beaches without paying for an excursion. In Freeport be sure to do an excursion- the bike ride was phenomenal. Port Canaveral, we just went to Cocoa Beach and Cocoa Village, which was good.
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST,
Getting off the boat…. Again, First to Fun saved the day. We got to the dock at 10 AM and were driving away by 10:40. Perfect timing with 5-10 inches of snow forecast for tomorrow. Ugh. The good news is my work will surely be cancelled and I desperately need some more sleep.