BACKGROUND: My husband and I booked this cruise like most Northeast residents to get out of the snow. March is also our anniversary month. We are experienced travelers/cruisers on RC, NCL, Celebrity, and this was our second Carnival cruise. In 2012 we first cruised with Carnival on Miracle out of NYC. I was pleasantly surprised with my first Carnival cruise – service, ship, and food – so that gave me some confidence that booking the Pride was the way to go. The price was flat out hard to say no to – under $1500 for the both of us in a balcony room compared to my parents who booked RC’s Explorer of the Seas in May out of NYC and were paying over $1800 per person. Yes, May is warmer, but I was willing to forego the weather to get away with such a great price.
After all the drama with Explorer on the news, my parents decided to cancel their May trip and book with us on the Pride. Carnival was more than accommodating with the arrangements – the reps I talked to on the phone were helpful and put us in rooms next to each other less than two months before sailing. My parents were also able to get the same rate as us, but they paid a little more in taxes/port charges. Score to Carnival for the great service for their phone reps!
PRE-CRUISE: We’ve only driven through Baltimore, never stayed – so we decided to stay in Baltimore the night before and park our car at the port. I got a great deal at the Courtyard Marriott on Aliceanna Street on Travelocity for $117 + $25 for one day of parking at the hotel. The drive from Philly was an easy hour and a half drive – uneventful. We navigated Baltimore with our GPS, but the Inner Harbor is not difficult to drive around in.
Anyone that has read my prior reviews or posts knows that my DH and I are foodies. We love visiting places that have been on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. So for brunch on Saturday we stopped at the Blue Moon Café and I ordered the delicious Captain Crunch French Toast. Folks – this place is no joke. All homemade, no imitations – by far the best French toast I’ve ever had! DH had eggs Benedicts with lump crab meat and an Old Bay sprinkle. He raved about his plate as well.
After brunch, we headed a few blocks down the street to the Courtyard and we were able to check in by noon with no problems. The weather was gorgeous – 65 degrees and sunny. It was the weekend before St Patty’s Day and everyone was out and about in their green. We strolled around the Inner Harbor and decided to take a nap before dinner.
Back at the hotel, I realized that I had forgotten to make reservations at Thames Street Oyster House, and at that point they were full for the night. The hotel gave us a welcome packet along with free Wifi (we are reward members) with restaurant recommendations. We went with Captain James Seafood Palace and boy, we were not disappointed! Not only were the prices good, the food and service were both exceptional!! The atmosphere is fun; the building is in the shape of a ship and the windows are port holes. There is free parking across the street and it’s also close to the water walk which boasts some stunning views of the harbor.
Back at the hotel, I realized I forget to pack socks (serves me right for waiting until the night before to pack!) and my ankle brace. So Sunday morning DH and I woke up and hit the local Target for our last minute items and Wawa for coffee/breakfast. I used the Cruise Ship Tracker to see that Pride had already sailed under the FSK bridge so we decided to drive over to the port to watch her come into Baltimore. It was around 9:47am (I know because I texted my mom a picture!) and Pride was already in port and people were disembarking.
EMBARKATION: We met up with my parents back at the hotel and decided to pack up our things to head over to the port. We arrived at the lot around 11:15am and waited about 10 minutes to unload our luggage, pay $105 to park (compared to $250+ at NYC), and walk a few feet to the terminal. Security and check in were painless – I had two bottles of Moscato in my carry on and had no issues bringing them onboard - we waited about an hour before they started letting folks on board. By 1:15 we were on board, got DH a soda card, and dropped our bags off in our rooms. We had a mid-ship balcony on deck 6 and it was perfectly acceptable space wise; more closet space than I remembered but that was a pleasant surprise. Since we are VIFPs, Carnival left us complimentary drinks to be used at breakfast/brunch/lunch. I had ordered my DH some chocolate treats which were there to greet us. My only issue was that the bathroom had an odor….an odd cat litter meets potpourri odor – and the toilet in my parent’s room wasn’t even working!! Mom called our cabin attendant to get it fixed – in the meantime we headed to Mermaid for some grub. (***Note – I read on CC that the sailing after ours had brown water flushing through the toilets for the first day…not to mention a power outage!! EEEEK!!)
After lunch we stopped at Guest Relations and requested the partition between our balconies be opened; no issue getting that done. Muster drill was boring as usual but necessary. Pride sailed a few minutes after 5pm, one hour late. As we exited Baltimore, Old Man Winter wasn’t going to let us sail away without a reminder of the past few months. It started snowing and kept snowing until later that night when the Pride out sailed another NE snow storm. On our balcony it felt like a winter wonderland. One I was happy to leave for some sun!!
We had early seating at 6pm and like cattle, we herd around the door until it opens. Have to get that squirt of hand sanitizer before entering the dining room! Normandy was very different from the dining room on Miracle; it was light and bright while Miracle was dark and had purple grapes all over the ceiling. We enjoyed the atmosphere very much in Normandy. Dinner was good, followed by dessert – warm chocolate melting cake – which was outstanding! Our servers were Rudi, Ketut, and Dewan – all very nice men, but we waited quite some time for our food. We had hoped this was just due to first cruise day commotions.
DAY TWO – FUN DAY AT SEA: Not so Happy St Patty’s Day!! This was quite possibly the roughest sailing that I have ever experienced in my 12+ years of cruising. I woke up around midnight and the rocking was just unbelievably strong. I jumped from the bed to the couch multiple times to easy the feelings of queasiness. In all honesty I have never had issues with motion sickness, but I was completely overwhelmed for hours. I’m sure the winter storm didn’t help but we were also going about 20 knots by 2am. My DH hit the glass door and nursed an egg on his head for the next few days. I can only imagine it was worse on the aft and forward rooms.
I managed to fall back asleep after cocooning myself in pillows and cushions to soften the rocking. When I woke up Monday morning I was in a very bad state. I didn’t want to eat and I felt very weak. We moseyed up to Mermaid buffet and I had coffee and some toast. Our speed had slowed at this point and the rockiness had subsided. Throughout the day I felt better but I was really worried for a few hours. Again – never felt a ship move like that before and I’m curious if others on the sailing experienced the same thing.
We spent the day hanging out in our room, watching the water and relaxing. It was too cold for swimming but we managed to lose $50 in the casino trying our luck. We walked around the ship a few times checking out everyone who was decked in green for St Patty’s Day. Carnival had a bar crawl type party for the holiday, but I didn’t participate since I wasn’t feeling so good that day. We explored different lounges and checked out the gym. Most folks were enjoying the hot tubs that were actually working (more on that later). Dinner that night was good; Captain’s Dinner so most people were dressed appropriately. Most….well, not all. It’s always interesting to see what someone else’s idea of ‘getting dressed up’ is, but nonetheless we had a great meal. DH had three lobster tails and said they were very tasty. Again, we were the first to arrive and the last people to get our food and leave. The rest of our evening was spent on our balcony, watching the water and chit chatting.
DAY THREE – FUN DAY AT SEA: Much better night sleep!! The ship definitely slowed down and at this point, we were right off the coast of Georgia. My DH and I get a kick out of the map channel that Carnival (and most ships) offers. The inner nerd in us loves to know wind speed, sea depth, and location – so throughout the day this channel is on our TV. Today was much warmer – capris and t-shirt weather. Thank goodness…I was afraid Old Man Winter was going to follow up all the way down South! We decided to do breakfast in the dining room today as Carnival has this Sea Day brunch menu that runs until about 11:30am. My dad and I both enjoyed the Fruit Loop crusted French toast (not as good as Blue Moon Café’s) and corned beef hash (looked like it was straight from a can). Their thick cut bacon looked like the microwaveable pre-cooked stuff you buy I the store. I would expect this type of quality at the buffet, but not the dining room!!
After brunch, we hung out in the casino watching folks try their skills at the claw machines. We also had to pay a visit to Guest Relations to straighten out our bill. Both my parents and DH and I had a charge on our Sign and Sail for the Disney excursion we had planned for the next day – even though we had prepaid for it weeks prior. Waiting in line for Guest Services took forever, but the gals working there were more than helpful since we brought a copy of the paid receipt. They gave us each a credit on our accounts and it zeroed out the balance.
I wish the glass balcony doors on Carnival rooms were sliding so that we didn’t have to prop the door open with the deck chair. The sounds of the waves were so nice and calming. We vegged the rest of the day, took a nap, and enjoyed the beautiful breeze from our balcony. Dinner that night was good. The Maître D, Manuel, visited the tables on this night. He joked with my Dad about the both of them needing some color on their heads (both shave their heads).
That night on the ship was one of the best nights I’ve ever had on a vacation. The storm that surrounded us for the last two days was finally beginning to pull away. The air was warm. We saw the moon rise from the water which was incredible – I’ve never seen that before. We could see Florida and the approaching land. We watched the stars and talked until my husband started screaming “Look in the water! DOLPHINS!!” There was a pod of dolphins swimming along the ship! It was so beautiful to see them playing and jumping. We could hear them talking (or clicking, whatever they do!!) and decided to head down to deck 2 and watch them. It’s almost as if they knew we were watching and they put on a show for us!! Two of them were side by side jumping into the wake from the ship right. They were so close we could hear them blowing air through their blowholes. We watched them for about ten minutes until they swam off into the ocean. It was an incredible moment to experience and I knew it was a sign of things looking up!!
DAY FOUR – PORT CANAVERAL: We decided to book an excursion to Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. It was over $160 per person through the Carnival and included bus transportation to and from. We woke up early, hit Mermaid for breakfast at 6:30am and were first in line at mid-ship to get off. It took 45 minutes from dock for the staff to get the gangway set up and once we were off, we walked through the terminal to the buses designated for Magic Kingdom. We were on the first bus that departed and arrived at Disney around 9:15am. The bus drops you off at the transfer center and you have to take either the ferry or the monorail to MK; reversely we were told that the last bus leaves the center at 4:45pm and if you aren’t on it, the taxi back to the pier is $175.
We took the ferry and enjoyed the breezy ride across the Seven Seas Lagoon. It was a beautiful Florida day, 85 degrees and sunny; it was so great feeling the heat of the sun compared to the dreary weather we had the last few days. This was my parents’ first trip ever to Disney and we knew in just one day we wouldn’t be able to do all that we wanted. I’ve read that people who booked this excursion didn’t think it was enough time, blah blah….well we had no expectations except to have fun and explore.
We were able to do the following rides/shows: Enchanted Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, It’s a Small World, Under the Sea (Little Mermaid), Astro Orbiter, People Mover, Carousel of Progress. The only ride that we weren’t able to go right on right away was Under the Sea – we waited in line about 25 mins but it kept moving and we were in the shade. Fantasy Land was PACKED – the other parts weren’t crowded at all and we leisurely strolled around. We had lunch at the Starlight Café – very yummy. Then we headed back to the castle to take pictures and we walked up Main Street going into the shops and checking out the stores. I purchased the prettiest pair of pink sequined Minnie ears; DH was more retro and found his inner geek with a pair of R2D2 Mickey ears.
We ended our MK day on the Walt Disney Railroad going around the park. At 3:45pm when we decided to head back to the transfer center. For whatever reason, the Monorail wasn’t working (the cast members told us that it lost its charge???) and we had to take the ferry back. We had no issues with the ferry as it wasn’t crowded and it’s a fun ride! The first bus was a little late arriving but by time we boarded and waited for it to fill up, we left around 4:30pm.
The drive back to the port had some traffic but all in all was very easy with us arriving at 5:40pm. We all changed quickly and headed to our 6pm dinner. The dining room wasn’t as full as it normally was and the ship didn’t leave until after 6pm. We figured it was due to so many people booking excursions and not being back on time. This wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular – but if the first bus from MK didn’t leave until 4:30pm, I imagine the buses to the other parks (including Universal Studios) didn’t leave until after 4:45pm. This was the exact reason why I wanted to reserve this particular excursion through the cruise line – the ship will not leave port if a group/guest is stuck in transit while on an excursion IF it is booked through the cruise line. If we had done this on our own and rented a car, got stuck in traffic….well, we would have been scrambling!! $300 was a good hunk of change to put out, but we were happy and stress free about our day. My parents enjoyed MK so much and want to visit the other parks now!!
DAY FIVE – NASSAU, BAHAMAS: Woke up in a great mood, listening to the ocean and feeling the sun on my face. This was my first visit to Nassau and we had no concrete plans for this day. We hadn’t decided whether or not to stay on the ship, but once we saw the beautiful water in we decided to venture out!
Approaching Nassau, immediately the first thing you see in the distance is the huge tower of Atlantis. Using my Dad’s binoculars, I could see that another cruise ship was in Nassau – NCL’s Breakaway. I was well aware of the spring break crowd coupled with another cruise ship - Atlantis was most likely going to be packed!! I had called the British Colonial Hilton (the big orange hotel you see pulling into port) a few weeks prior about day passes ($65 pp and you get a $40 drink/meal voucher) for us. The woman at the desk said I could just walk to the hotel to buy them – this way if it rained, I wouldn’t have to worry about a refund or changing plans. So we decided to go there to spend the day.
Getting off the ship was easy until you left the pier. Never in my life have I had so many people yelling, not speaking, but yelling at me and trying to bait me. The tour guides were very aggressive and it was a HUGE turn off! I politely said “No thank you, have a nice day!” and waved my hand.
Thankfully the walk to the Hilton didn’t take long – maybe ten minutes. Once there, we waited in line at the front desk. There was a group of four ahead of us and for some reason it took forever for the front desk staff to give them bracelets (day pass). When it was our turn, I asked the woman if we could purchase 4 day passes. She asked if I had a reservation, and I said no – then she told me they were booked for day passes and we couldn’t get in. So I explained my conversation from the prior week and she just said “I’m sorry there is nothing I can do.”
We headed back to the ship and decided to get lunch at Senior Frogs. It wasn’t crowded and it was right on the water (which was seriously, beautiful blue water!!) ironically next to the Hilton’s beach. The four of us shared a $40 appetizer tray (overpriced much – that’s what we get going to Senior Frogs) and had some fun watching the waiters prepare fresh conch salad. I wish our conch fritters were as good as that salad looked – all breading and totally burned. The service went downhill after a group of spring breakers came in and the waiters/bartenders/MC started playing drinking games at the bar. All the while we were facing the beach we so desperately wanted to be relaxing on…I have to say there were at least 20 empty chairs and maybe 2 people in the water.
We headed back to the ship but not before purchasing a $5 conch shell from inside the terminal before the pier. I didn’t want to buy it outside of the terminal because I was afraid of opening my wallet – now that is really sad.
We got back on the ship and decided to head to Serenity and enjoy the beautiful 91 degree day in a hammock, lounging by the pool. There might have been 10 people there when we arrived – not crowded in the least. Of course we could see the beach at the Hilton – still not crowded or looking like it was ‘sold-out’!! We had no problem finding open clam shells (that’s what I call the round loungers with the overhang). No one was in the pool – so I decided to get in and I noticed that the water was dirty and cloudy - there was a brown oil-slick on the top. I walked over to the towel desk and told the gal that there was brown gunk in the pool. After she saw the water, she grabbed one of those skimmer poles and started skimming the top layer…then rinsing the gunk off in the shower next to the pool where people stand and rinse off!! If it were me, I would have called Maintenance or someone – because the water was dirty – as if someone wearing a spray on bronzer and got in the pool and it came off. There was no way I was swimming in that water.
So we walked to the Venus Main Pool and it was completely closed and roped off; when I asked a crew member why it was closed she rattled off to me about where another pool was. I heard it was closed for ‘sanitation’ but the hot tub next to it was working. The third pool, called Apollo, was working but the hot tub here was closed and roped off. We decided to sit at the Apollo and put our feet in the water. I am honestly surprised that for a 91 degree day the water was absolutely FRIGID!!!! We hung out for a little while and had some ice cream. We didn’t stay too long because Maintenance showed up to fix the broke hot tub; the fumes coming out of the vent were less than pleasing. I know things needs to be done to keep the ship working – but this was just poor planning. There were kids in the pool and families; everyone cleared out because of the fumes.
We headed back to our room and took a nap – dinner that night was good but again, disappointing, slow service. We noticed a young couple near us that always came in around 6:45pm. Even they were eating their desserts before us!! I don’t think there was one night when we weren’t there after 8pm. The staff knew it was an issue – they would apologize saying, “Oh your food is coming right up!!”
Back in our room, it was so entertaining to watch people running late and trying to catch the ship at the pier – more entertaining was the heckling from other guests on the balconies looking on. Here are some of my favorites:
“Run, Forest, Run!”
“Take off your heels!”
“No don’t run. Keep walking, you’re only holding up the whole f-ing BOAT!!”
It was comical to say the least!!! We hung out on our balcony that night and watched the ship pull out of Nassau in the sunset. Once the sky turned dark, there were fireworks on the island and we could see them well out at sea; it was very cool to watch!
DAY FIVE – FREEPORT, BAHAMAS: This was my second time to Freeport; I thought it was a dump the first time I visited in 2002 – and I’m sad to say nothing has changed in the 12 years since I’ve been there. I woke up that morning with a sinus infection and a sore throat. We couldn’t leave our door open because the smell of fuel was so abundant in the air. I had been to the Lucaya Market and had zero desire to go back. My parents and DH decided to venture out but I decided to stay in bed and take some medicine. They were back within about an hour – DH was very disappointed with the stores around the port and didn’t want to pay for the shuttle to the market. I thought when I was here years before, the shuttle was free – but things can obviously change in 12 years.
The ship left by 1pm and headed home. This was our last night in the dining room as we had planned David’s Steakhouse for the following night. My DH had a hard time controlling his temper with the service we had. We were in the dining room at 5:50pm (they opened early) and we didn’t leave until 8:20pm. We arrived before every other guest in our area and they all left before we ordered dessert.
DAY SIX – FUN DAY AT SEA: The Saturday sailing up to Atlantic to Baltimore was very nice. The weather was warm, kids were on the slide, and the pool deck was crowded. We did another sea day brunch and used our free drink voucher for morning Fresh Italians (a delicious orange drink).
DISEMBARKATION: Even though we were told our arrival in Baltimore wouldn’t be until 10am, we were docked by 8am. We chose to do Self Assist because we are able to carry our bags off on our own. Around 9am they called Self Assist; we looped around the casino and had to go through US Customs. By 10am, we were on 95 heading home to Philly.
POST CRUISE THOUGHTS: Typically I’m really sad and get the ‘post-cruise’ blues on the way home, but I definitely didn’t feel that way about this trip. I was actually quite happy to return home. We landed an amazing price for this cruise and enjoyed the convenience of not having to fly, but that’s basically where the pizazz ended. The ship is boring and needs to be brought back to life!!! Below are some of the highlights (or, lowlights) in my opinion of this trip:
THREE POOLS ON THE SHIP, YOU SAY?: Ha!!! There were three pools but they were never working at the same time. The hot tubs as well had issues. The gunk in the Serenity was really gross – but more disappointing was the lack of action by the crew. The times when we were at Serenity we noticed kids under the age of 21. On Miracle, the crew politely asked to see their sail cards and told them they couldn’t be back there. They weren’t rude to them and didn’t cause a scene – but on Pride, nothing was said to the younger people.
WHAT WAS THAT SMELL?: Walking through the hallways and taking the elevators up and down, we noticed that familiar bathroom smell throughout the ship. It was very unpleasant and unappealing. It has to be either the carpets or something in the ventilation systems. I’ve seen several people comment that the ship is going into dry dock for refurbishment; I would push them to go now and not in October!! There is no reason such a beautiful vessel should smell like that.
ROGER, THAT!!: On the Saturday that we stayed in Baltimore we received multiple emails and phone calls throughout the day from Carnival about arrivals times for the next day and also our late disembarkation for the following Sunday. While it was great to see Carnival being so forthright and trying to control crowds, the times were totally off from what really happened. They told us to arrive at the pier between 2-3:30pm and that the terminal wouldn’t be open before then, but we got there at 11:15am and terminal was already filled with people. We left at 5pm - supposed to be 4pm. Coming home, they told us we wouldn’t dock until 10am but we were there hours prior. I’m glad I didn’t fly – because if I had to change my plans based on their bogus information I would have been one unhappy camper...I mean cruiser ïŠ
SERVICE: Our cabin attendant Sandid was great! We never knew he was there and did his job very well. On the Friday that I was sick, he checked in with me later in the day to see if I needed anything. Room service doesn’t offer any soups but he was willing to get me some from the dining room if I wanted it; very thoughtful on his part. Also, our experience with the Guest Relations staff was very positive; they were quite friendly. Our waiters at dinner were nice and personable, but they were also slow and I’m still puzzled as to why we were always waiting for our food or waiting for someone to go by so we could ask for a drink.
SANITATION: This is always a big deal to me, especially with hearing that Explorer of the Seas got hit with the bug. In my opinion, this responsibility doesn’t just fall on the crew, but also on the passengers. There can be crew standing around common areas and proactively giving out pumps of Purell to everyone around the ship – but the fact is that it’s passengers that need to make conscious decisions about sanitation.
An example of this: One night while grabbing a coffee on Lido deck, I saw an older Asian man sneeze directly onto the juice dispenser and three stacks of cups. He made no attempt to cover his mouth or turn his head; he just sneezed all over and walked away. One of the crew members saw it and he knew that I saw it too. He looked at me immediately and directed me to use the counter on the opposite side. He removed all of the cups and sent them to get washed and he asked one of the other crew members to replace the dispenser. I think he did the right thing – but that one careless action by a guest caused the extra work. If we hadn’t seen him sneeze on everything – the germs would be spreading!!!
The bottom line is – it’s a cruise ship, you are in close quarters to other human beings. Use your best judgment and be conscious of your surroundings and your body. In common areas there were Purell stations very visible - use them! It’s better for you and everyone else.
FOOD: The food on this ship was very good but there were some odd combinations at the buffet. I had salads for lunch each day and the Mermaid buffet in particular had the most delicious croutons and ranch dressing. My DH loves the chicken fingers and fries at the grill. I kept away from the Stir Fry section – again, some of the combinations didn’t make sense like octopus with corn/black beans? No thank you!! Also, the pizza had flavor but was terribly thin. The wait time was long. After the refurb I hear there will be other food options on board – that should be a welcomed change.
The dining room food was as good as I ever had – in particular the filet mignon, short ribs, chicken carbonara, Cesar salad, potato soup, sweet potato soup, stuffed mushrooms, and my favorite….the warm chocolate melting cake. This cake cannot be duplicated anywhere!! One night I did opt for the apple pie and a slice of the low calorie pumpkin pie – I’m so glad I got the apple pie!! I took one bite of the pumpkin and it was gross; it looked like cloudy Jello. We also ate at David’s Steakhouse and the food was just beautiful. I had the beefsteak tomato salad, French onion soup, filet and the NY cheesecake. The food was cooked wonderfully and the chef came out to chat with us and make sure our experience was satisfactory.
ENTERTAINMENT: If you consider $30 bingo entertainment, then this is the cruise for you. The activities on this ship are not out of the ordinary - Sexy legs, hairy chest, slot tournament….it’s all been done before. There was nothing that jumped out at us to see with the exception of “Santa” Gary and his wife on Not So Newlywed Game. I never got the chance to meet him or his wife directly, but they were the most entertaining and they weren’t even crew members!!
OVERALL: We booked this cruise to get away from the cold weather and in the end, we were happy to have sunny, hot days in all of our ports. Disney was a great time but I could care less to ever visit the Bahamas again. Thinking back over my past cruises, this is probably the worst cruise I’ve ever been on. I was very disappointed with the service and quality of this ship; I’m hoping this isn’t a Carnival trend but more just with this ship. Also, I will NEVER sail out of ANY Northeast port again between December and April – but would definitely go out of Baltimore again. It is a clean, easy to get to, and such a convenient pier; great alternative to NYC. I wish they would put a pier in Philly…I would be the first one at the dock ready to go!!