Sailed the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore 3/16/14 and had a wonderful week! We were apprehensive to book at first because of mixed reviews of Carnival as well as the ship itself, but we are so glad that we went for it!
The Port & Embarkation:
We received a recorded message to arrive between 2pm-4pm, but ignored it and arrived at noon because of other reviews we'd read. The port is easy to access from I-95. Paying for parking by cash resulted in waiting in no lines while there was a short line for credit card payment.
We booked a suite so we had priority check-in which allowed us to bypass a line of at least 30-40 people prior to security. Things did bottleneck at the scanners, but still it was only a 5-7 minute wait. Once past security, we were whisked away to the super-secret priority check-in room. There were two families in front of us and the entire process took approximately 10 minutes. Meanwhile we sat comfortably rather than standing in long lines. From there we went to a priority boarding section where we sat and waited until the ship was cleared for boarding, about 15-20 minutes later. The next time I looked at my watch it was 1:05 pm and we were sitting on the Lido Deck already eating our lunch!
I will agree with what many others have said, the ship is very dark. This isn't something you'll necessarily notice unless you've cruised other ships, but it's very noticeable if you have. Is this a huge issue? No. I do think it makes finding your way around a tad harder and it could prove to be a problem for anyone with low vision. The décor is more tolerable and perhaps even interesting if you research the ship before setting sail. (There is an excellent video about the design of the Pride on YouTube). There is nudity, not offensive and I didn't observe anyone having issues with it. However the design and artwork does make the ship feel even older than it is.
The Pride is smaller than what we've cruised in the past. This turned out to be an advantage! It's a much more personable experience on a ship of 2100 passengers.
Our cabin was ready when we went to check on it at 1:45. Our Vista Suite was beautiful, clean and the perfect escape for the week. We've already decided that this is the ONLY cabin we want to book in the future. Our cabin steward was fantastic! He saw to our every need and was a joy to chit chat with any time that we bumped into him. Our entire cabin was kept impeccably clean, yet somehow we never caught him cleaning it!
The food was a mix of so-so, good and great. The Mermaid is adequate, but not impressive. I suppose for a buffet you could say that it's typical. Every so often we would get something that was really tasty, but overall it wasn't anything to rave about. By the second half of the week we opted for burgers from the grill over the buffet options. The burgers are literally hot off the grill and tasty. (Hint: They will prepare a grilled chicken sandwich for you, just ask!) We found the late night offerings to be a bit limited for the crowd on this ship (many college "Spring Break-ers") and the 24 hour pizza place had a hard time managing the line. Pizza toppings were limited, but tasty. For breakfast, again the buffet was average to good. The omelets were the way to go for us. My husband learned that they will make 2 at a time for you if you're a big eater.
The Normandie served excellent food with flawless service for dinner. We chose the Your Time Dining option and it worked well for us. We were seated immediately every evening except for the first elegant night when we had a 20 minute wait (for a table for 2). We were given a pager and were able to go have photos taken during the wait. The sea day brunch is well worth trying and is a nice alternative to the buffet. Service during brunch was never at the caliber of dinner, but nothing worth a complaint. We missed the afternoon tea, but heard that it was very nice.
We dined at David's Steakhouse for my birthday on the last night of the cruise. That was 48 hours ago and I swear I'm still full! It was a wonderful meal. The complimentary tastings courtesy of the chef were phenomenal! Everything else from the starters to dessert was delicious. If you're a big dessert eater I have one thing to say...CHEESECAKE! It was the biggest, most delicious piece of cheesecake I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying (and I never did finish it!). If you're a cheesecake lover, this one should go on your list. The service in David's was amazing from beginning to end. The wait staff treated us like lifelong friends and made sure our every need was met. The restaurant manager checked on us twice AND the executive chef visited us twice! It was well worth the additional charge and we will definitely do it again.
Room service is the one and only option on the ship that I absolutely can not encourage you to try. Granted, room service is complimentary but honestly it would be robbery if they dared to charge for it. The menu is skimpy. We ordered once, the salads weren't fresh, the sandwiches were pitiful (my tuna salad was warm and dripping with mayo so I didn't dare eat it) and our desserts had no flavor at all. On a second attempt during off-hours we tried only green salad and fruit salad, that was more successful. Both times we were quoted a wait time of 30-45 minutes and the food arrived within 25 minutes. Service - good! Food- not so much!
We found our go-to favorites and settled into a routine with those. As a result we missed many of the shows. We enjoyed the house band in the Starry Nights Lounge, add that to excellent bar service and comfy seating and it was a great nightly hangout for us. We enjoyed several comedy shows, but as the week goes on it becomes harder to get a seat at the late show. As others have mentioned, photographers are everywhere, some felt it was a nuisance. We found if you simply say "no thank you", that they were courteous. Is it a money-maker for the cruise line? Of course, but no one is forcing you to buy the photos so why not have fun with it!
Ports of Call:
What can I say? With a long trek from Baltimore, options are limited. As others mention, Freeport is somewhat of a waste, especially when Nassau offers so much to do. Regardless, we enjoyed every minute spent in the Bahamas. The 2 days going down was rough, with very choppy seas. Coming back was smoother seas, but the high speed of the ship made quite a bit of vibration and rockiness.
This was our big surprise. I'd read in other reviews that booking a suite affords you priority boarding, but no priority when leaving the ship. This is NOT true!! In fact, suite/penthouse passengers are instructed to meet separately from other passengers and then are escorted by crew. Apparently some of the suite passengers thought they would get ahead by jumping in the self-assist line before being called. What they didn't know is that while the self-assist passengers are called over the speakers, crew members personally came to gather the suite passengers and escorted us to the front of the line. When we exited the ship, the self-assist line was so long that we couldn't see the end of it! We also noticed some other suite passengers in the self-assist line. I'm sure that they thought jumping into the line would get them off faster- however if they'd followed their debarkation instructions they would have been able to relax for a bit in the lounge and then go right to the head of the line.
We were given a debarkation time of 11:00 a.m. I'm not sure exactly what time we got off the ship, however at 11:00 we were already at home!
Tip on baggage: Tape your Carnival luggage tags all the way around, not just at the joint where the ends of the tags meet. On the first day there were MANY bags missing tags waiting to be claimed (mine being one of them). If your bag fails to show up, go to the Atrium near guest services where you will find all of the homeless bags waiting to be claimed. Guest Services won't necessarily contact you, my contact info was on the luggage and they didn't even attempt to get it to me. Even when I called and told them I was missing a suitcase hours after our other 2 bags had arrived, they didn't tell me that I could come down and look for my bag! Another passenger told us where to go look when he overheard that I was missing luggage!
On that note....
Guest Services: This is probably the one place where I would say customer service is lacking. The crew in every other area was happy, welcoming, cheerful and accommodating EXCEPT at Guest Services. I can't even express the irony here that the customer service reps provided the worst customer service on the entire ship. I've noticed I'm not the only person to have this same opinion...interesting.
Overall it was a great get away for us and now we are thrilled to realize the convenience of jumping on a cruise ship from our home state! Also worth noting, we were on the "Spring Break" cruise with a large group of college students and it was great! I don't have a single complaint about their behavior on the ship, they were respectful and made our days much more fun!
Can't wait to go on the Pride again!