This was my first Carnival cruise (my 7th cruise overall); I chose it mainly because of the convenience of sailing from Baltimore (conveniently close to my home in Washington). I traveled solo. The timing worked out well--the cruise took place after a major snow storm so it was nice to get away for a week.
This was definitely a family cruise crowd. Most people on board seemed to be traveling with family members. There were a lot of children and a lot of multi-generation family groups. (Some comments by staff gave me the impression that there were more children than usual-this was the President's Birthday weekend and apparently New York schools had a weeklong break, so there were a lot of New Yorkers and kids.) The make-up of the passengers: younger than other cruises I have been on; besides the kids, there were a lot of young couples (20s-30s) and more 40-somethings than 50 or 60 year olds. In my mid-50s I was in the older group, but there were plenty my age and older than me so it really was a cruise for all ages. Passengers seemed to be mostly Americans--although there was a respectable Canadian contingent and I heard a lot of people speaking in Russian or some eastern European language and there was a large Asian contingent on one of my excursions, so there was some national diversity.
The ship itself is probably considered medium-sized. Definitely big, but not hard to get around. The decor was surprisingly dark--nothing like the bright colors of what I understand other Farcus-designed Carnival ships are like. The most predominant theme was Renaissance paintings and sculptures, so be forewarned (particularly if you are traveling with kids), plenty of tasteful nudes. I found it interesting, but the overall idea (as explained by the designer in a video shown on the cabin tv) was "icons of beauty" and led to lot of jarring contrasts--an Indian-style Taj Mahal main theater, a jockey and horse-racing inspired Winners Circle casino, and a 70s-style disco. Everything was spotless and well-maintained. No signs of wear and tear that I noticed. Overall a beautiful ship.
Cabins were relatively large. Decor was more functional than stylish. Notable plusses: a larger than average shower (which, as a larger than average person, I appreciated) with a shower head on a handy flexible hose with easy to use on/off and heat controls; excellent lighting; plenty of closet space; a cabin tv with a lot of useful features (all four major US tv networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) which I think is unique to Carnival ships, plenty of pay-per-view movies to choose from (over 30); the ability to review account on the tv; ability to order shore excursions on the tv); nice bathroom amenities that included a razor and small tube of toothpaste; nice complimentary bathrobes; and (for those with a balcony) chairs with adjustable backs (although they aren't loungers). Things not so good: very small end tables that couldn't hold a book along with the built in lambs (with storage space of only 1 foot square, with no shelves); beds were comfortable, but nothing special; shampoo is from a wall dispenser in the shower rather than a free shampoo bottle (which I would have preferred).
Service was uniformly excellent. Everyone I dealt with was helpful and friendly. I only met one cabin steward so I don't know if he had an assistant or not, but the room was cleaned quickly and expertly and he found time to put together great towel animals. Service in the main dining room was equally good. Never a mix-up on the orders and everything was delivered and cleared away promptly.
For dining there are four main options: the main dining room (Normandie Restaurant), extra-the extra cost restaurant (David's Steakhouse); the lido buffet (Neptune Grille); and room service. The Normandie served excellent food and had a good variety. I only ate here for dinner, so I can't comment on breakfast or lunch, but I always left fully satisfied and usually had difficulty choosing because they had multiple items that looked good. The restaurant has particularly pleasing decor--light and sleek. The waiters do a song or dance routine most nights before dessert and I found it fun and entertaining. I ate in the traditional seating (set time and table) and Carnival did a good job putting all solos at my table, which worked out well and I am sure was not a coincidence. David's Steakhouse cost $30 and was well worth the price; the food was great and the overall ambiance made the dinner something special. Good for special occasion or just a treat for one night. The meat is top grade and cooked to perfection (I skipped using the sauces they give on the side because I didn't want anything to cover the great taste of the meat). There are also seafood choices--lobster and crab cakes (although the Marylanders I ran into refused to order them because nothing could be as good as Maryland crab).
The buffet also had plenty of choices and good quality food. There are a number of different stations--salad bar, Asian counter, sandwich counter, international counter (with varying cuisine), a pizza station (with 6-8 choices), and a grill with hamburgers and hot dogs and chicken tenders. There is also a self-service soft ice cream machine that also serves frozen yogurt that is available 24/7. I found the layout confusing and impractical mainly because each station was separated far apart in different rooms or different corners of a room. It resulted in shorter lines, but a lot of wandering around to see what was available. Drink choices were also disappointing in the lido; there is water, iced tea, and lemonade available, and orange juice and fruit juice, as well as milk (chocolate as well as white) and coffee, but soda and beer must be ordered from a bar, which means leaving the buffet to go to a poolside bar (if one is open). (For breakfast, the Lido buffet has the usual choices available; I found it always very satisfying.) The last choice is room service. The main problem with room service is the very limited choices available--there are no warm items available for breakfast, only toast, bagels, cereal, and similar continental breakfast choices. Similarly, choices for lunch and dinner are limited--mainly sandwiches--no pizza or burgers. (However, the sandwiches were good and really hit the spot for an afternoon or late night snack.) Other eating choices--a sushi bar and a desserts counter on deck 2 or 3 and afternoon tea (which I did not try). Carnival labels itself as the Fun Ships and there were plenty of fun activities. The cruise director and assistant cruise directors (Jaime and Will) did a great job building up audience enthusiasm and keeping things lively. The weather turned out to be colder than usual, but there were plenty of things to do indoors to keep occupied--which was important because this itinerary had three full sea days.
The entertainment was particularly good. I enjoy song-and-dance production shows and the three on the Carnival Pride are all great--Wonderful World (which has songs based on different countries), Jazzin' (jazz in different eras), and Vroom! (the best of them all, with hit songs from 50s-80s and not a bad song in the entire show). The last night passengers do impressions of famous singers and it turned out to be a lot of fun--more comedy than great singing. On my sailing they had a ventriloquist and two great comedians: Al Ernst and Allyn Ball. Each had a totally different style, but both were hilarious. Carnival has a live band for its production shows (not all cruise lines do) and that added a lot to the quality of the shows. The music around the ship was great--a piano bar with a great player and at various locations around the ship a piano-player, a guitar-player, and a band. All were entertaining with different styles. There was also a breakdance duo--did a great job and added to the variety of entertainment on the ship.
An on-ship excursion I can recommend is the Behind the Fun tour--a 3 1/2 hour tour of behind-the-scenes parts of the ship, like the backstage dressing room, galley, crew lounge and dining room, engine control room, and bridge (my favorite). Definitely worth taking if you enjoy cruising and are curious about the hidden parts of a cruise ship. This excursion can only be booked on board (not beforehand) and have very limited numbers (16 per tour and only 2 tours per cruise).
Embarkation was a mess--very long lines and a lot of waiting (but this could have been because of a weather delay and late disembarkation of the previous cruise. Disembarkation was quick and orderly, but there is a long wait in lounges beforehand. Breakfast is available, however.
My overall impression was very positive. Some cruisers seem to look down on Carnival (based on some of the posts I've read in the non-Carnival boards), but I found it to be just as good as other lines in terms of food and service and a notch above in some things, like entertainment. The Carnival Pride was a great choice for me and I would recommend it for a convenient and (yes) fun cruise, particularly for those living in the mid-Atlantic region who enjoy sea days (as I do) mixed with some good time in the Bahamas.