By way of background, this was our 4th cruise, 3rd time on Carnival, and our first cruise in about 5 years. The other cruise we did was on Royal Caribbean, which we did not enjoy as much as we've enjoyed cruising on Carnival. On all the previous cruises, it's been me, my wife, my daughter, and my parents, but my parents died a few years ago, and my wife doesn't really care for cruising, so this time it was just me and my 14-year-old daughter.
First, a very helpful tip: I had been shopping around on the various travel websites for a cruise that matched up with my daughter's mid-winter recess. None of the sites was any cheaper than Carnival's own site, so I placed a 24-hour courtesy hold on this cruise at Carnival's site while I asked my wife one final time if she would come. It being tax season, she declined. In the meantime, I got a call back from a travel representative with Carnival, Deandra, who couldn't be nicer. I was looking for the absolute cheapest way for us to take a cruise, meaning, yes, I was willing to take a dreaded interior cabin. Deandra offered an upgrade that I hadn't been able to find online - for $10 apiece, we got upgraded from interior to a blocked view cabin. This means that we had a window - the French doors - and we were on the exterior of the ship, but we were right behind one of the lifeboats. But this was still pretty good. We got air, we got light, and we could stick our heads out and check the weather for the day. Sure a balcony is nice, but this "interior room" was well worth it.
Embarkation took a while. It seemed that the ship was a little late getting back into port from the previous cruise, so we didn't get on board until after 2pm, instead of around Noon, as we were hoping. No matter; that's quickly forgotten once you're on board and enjoying the luxury of the ship. The Baltimore port facility was okay; once the very long line started moving, we got to the front (check-in) very quickly, and then onboard right after that.
The Pride is a 12-year old ship, and she is showing some wear and tear. It doesn't look bad, mind you; but it's got its nicks, scuffs, and scratches. She is overdue for a refit: the cabins generally had old picture tube televisions instead of flat screens. No biggie whatsoever; the TVs worked just fine, and although we went during the Olympics, we were able to catch all the sports action on the old TVs. Supposedly the ship is being pulled from service for a few months later this year to refit the engines to burn a cleaner diesel fuel as required by United States regulations, and hopefully they will take care of not only that, but the TVs and the nicks and scrapes also at the same time.
One of the nice things about this ship is that it has a Renaissance theme - the walls of the ship are festooned with Renaissance art all over the place, and it's great. They also have an anatomically correct replica of Michaelangelo's statue of David, which is good for a chuckle.
The cabin was a very standard one. It seemed exactly like the cabin we had had the last time we cruised on the Carnival Valor 5 years earlier. Standard small size, but big enough for the two of us. All the standard cabin amenities: two separate twin beds, nighttables, plenty of shelf and closet storage, room for our suitcases in the closets, plenty of hangers, mini-fridge stocked with drinks we didn't drink, but moved so we could store the odd piece of fruit or other goodie we had taken from lunch, a desk area with a small hair dryer in one of the drawers, a sitting area that included a couch (which can be used as a bed), chair, and table, a standard bathroom with plenty of shelving and counter space, a clothesline, etc.
The one thing that was really lacking in the room was that there was just one outlet by the desk - one plug. When you've got computers, cellphones, rechargeable batteries for digital cameras, one plug just doesn't cut it. Be forewarned and bring a splitter and this won't be a problem. Also, the television was an old picture tube one, but it was perfectly fine. We watched the Olympics from our beds just fine on it.
There was also an outlet for a shaver in the bathroom, but I didn't use that one, and it didn't work with the plugs for electronics, as it seemed to be the wrong size and was overhead.
Second helpful tip: be forewarned and bring a splitter for charging all your electronics at the desk.
The cruise director, Kirk, really helped make the cruise more fun. Instead of a standard morning television show that was just informational, it was more like a wacky radio call-in show (although televised). I called in a couple of times during the cruise and got on the air. Kirk also ran some of the events on the air, such as the ship's version of The Newlywed Game, which was fun. He really helped make it a fun time.
This can't be said of all the cruise entertainers. One particular member of the entertainment staff, Haley, helped continue the stereotype of the ditzy blonde. But she was sort of charming in spite of the ditziness, so even though she had a tough time running her events, it was still fun to laugh at her complete ineptitude.
I took part in the hairy chest contest, which turned out instead to be a "middle-aged men trying to be sexy" contest, and had a blast! I also got to watch myself for the rest of the week on the ship's TV. I also sang karaoke all week, like I always do when I'm on board ship. Yeah, I guess I'm a ham. They even had a couple of sessions of karaoke where you sang with the ship's house band instead of a backing track on a CD. That was pretty unnerving, but fun!
The shows were good, but not great, although I do have to say that the onboard magician, Elton, was really terrific. There was the standard "Legends" show at the end of the cruise where the people who auditioned at karaoke sang for the crowds, dressed up as Elvis, Madonna, Sinatra, etc. (Not me!) That's always a fun show. The comedians were pretty terrific though, especially the late night (NSFW) shows. One guy didn't do any material at all, just cut on the people in the front row, and I was dying!
I signed my daughter up for the Children's club, but she pretty much just wanted to hang with me for the week, which was nice, so she didn't use it at all. We did meet some very nice people onboard that we had corresponded with about the cruise, and they had a daughter who was the same age as mine who she eventually befriended and hung out with, so it was nice to get a break every now and then.
We were really lucky to have great weather for the trip. We left Baltimore when it was about freezing, and even the very next day it had gotten up into the 50s when we were cruising down past the Carolinas. The second day was even nicer, in the 60s, and we got to lay out on the lounge chairs outside and get some sun. The weather in Florida and The Bahamas was about 82 and sunny for the three port days. Perfection.
The service overall was pretty good. Our cabin steward was great - our cabin was always in great shape, animal towels and chocolates to greet us every night. Those guys bust their butts. As for food, we ate dinner in the Normandie dining room every day. Although we had wanted to get assigned seating, we bought the cruise only about a month before sailing, and the assigned seats were all taken, so we had to do anytime dining instead.
Tip: if you have to (or want to) do the anytime dining, get there as close to 6:00 as you can. When we got there closer to 6:30, service took longer, and we missed out on some 7:30 activities (like early comedy shows, karaoke). When we got there at 6 (or even 5:50), the service was better (i.e., quicker) and we got out before 7:30. Next cruise, I'll try to get back to the assigned seating, because I prefer to give my tips to my service people in hand, not through the cruise's allocation system, and it's impossible to do this with anytime dining, as you get different servers each night.
We thought the food was pretty outstanding. As I mentioned, we ate dinner in the dining room everyday, and it was all incredible. Even the whipped butter was outstanding.
For lunch we ate at the various buffets. This was down a notch from the dining room, but still very good. I especially liked the deli (great pastrami and corned beef!) and the hot carved roast beef station. Then again, when it's all you can eat, I can become very easy to please.
Finally, for breakfast we pretty much ordered room service in the room every morning, except one. I don't think I was tipping enough - only $1 each morning, I really need to up that - and the service became not quite that good. They didn't bring everything that I had marked on the card a couple of times, and they didn't hit the window for delivery I marked down either, a couple different times. Not a big deal, really, but still. We did have brunch in the dining room once, and that was pretty great. We will have to get up earlier and do that more often next cruise.
Tip: there is a shrimp salad sandwich that someone else told me about that is only available on room service. Order 4 of them, they're small! But very, very tasty.
All in all, this was a great, great cruise. We had a ton of fun at the shows, participating in various activities, and going on the shore excursions.