Just returned from our Carnival Pride 10/31/10 cruise from Baltimore. We have cruised a number of times, but this was our first Carnival cruise so I thought I would post a review. I have to say right up front that I strongly feel vacations are what you make them, and my husband and I had a wonderful time. But a review that just raves about my wonderful time wouldn't really help anyone LOL so here are my impressions:
1) The ship: They say it's a crazy dEcor, which is true. But I like it. I sure didn't feel I was in a chain hotel! I thought it was a fun dEcor for a cruise ship. And even though this was the last cruise before a two week dry dock clean up, I felt the ship was very clean and well maintained and I am picky about cleanliness. Some things, like toilet seats in the public bathrooms, looked worn (not dirty, just worn) but I bet they will take care of that stuff in dry dock.
2) Our stateroom: The night before we left for the cruise (we left a couple days early to visit our daughter who lives in DC) the upgrade fairy called and offered us an upgrade from our category 8 aft balcony to a category 12 "penthouse suite" (to me penthouse means the top of the structure and the Pride's penthouse suites are on deck 6) for a couple hundred dollars. I am pretty intent on staying on budget so it was a difficult decision for me, but I thought what the heck and took the suite. This was absolutely the best decision I made regarding this entire cruise and you will see why through this review. The room was large and lovely with a huge deck. The bigger room was a good idea for a couple with different sleep schedules, there was enough room for my husband to turn the TV towards the couch and stay up late watching a show and for me to sneak in and out with a cup of coffee early in the morning.
3) The food: the Lido (Mermaid Grille) was your typical cruise ship buffet. Some items were better than others taste wise but the main downside for us is the crowd and chaos. We only went there when we had to (when the main dining room wasn't available or we didn't have time for it). The main dining room (Normandie) was very good, I would say the food ranged from good to very good and the service was very good. We had been placed at a table for ten on the bottom floor and I went to the Maitre D' shortly after boarding and asked for a table for two on the second floor which he gave to us with no problems. We had chosen late seating and I think that made a difference because I believe the first seating was completely full. The soups were particularly good. The best dessert by far was their famous chocolate melting cake though I could only eat half of it as it was so rich. Breakfasts and lunches in the Normandie were also very good, if you don't want to sit with strangers just say so, no problem. We ate at David's Steakhouse one night and while it was good I wouldn't do it again. For one thing, at $30 pp plus one very modest bottle of wine it is a $100 dinner. I didn't think the service was significantly better than the main dining room and it was too much food! I mean WAY too much food. I couldn't even finish my salad never mind my steak and my husband who is a big guy barely finished his steak and one bite of his dessert. It is kind of silly to spend money on food you end up throwing away. Here is the great secret of food on the Carnival Pride and it is FREE! It is the Sushi Bar and the 24 hour pizza station. For some reason the sushi on the Pride is spectacular and I grew up in Tokyo. The sushi bar is located in an obscure location just outside the casino and open most evenings from 5PM to around 8PM. You can eat your sushi right there or take it with you anywhere you like. They had three selections each evening (there were a couple evenings the sushi bar was closed). Ask for some of everything and take it to your favorite bar or stateroom and have the best cocktail time on earth. The 24 hour pizza place was a lifesaver for weird times when you missed a meal; they have interesting pizza like goat cheese and mushroom.
4) Entertainment: I was scared to book a Carnival cruise because I thought it would be too wild for us, we have cruised RCCL and Celebrity. But is a recession and Carnival was a lot cheaper. Lo and behold, this cruise was not only not too wild; at times it was too tame. Yes, there was some late night adult comedy which was a little racy (and we thought the best shows of the week) but for the most part this was a family style cruise and not a frat party at all. We didn't like the disco (Beauty) mainly because its layout was uncomfortable - dark with a spiral staircase, and they posted continual text messages on the wall of the room like "no drinks on the dance floor" in four foot tall letters which was annoying. But here was the thing; the other bars were rarely open! We had a hard time finding music or a place to dance after 11PM at night. The Lido was busy but that isn't our thing. So we ended up several nights playing our i-pod and dancing on the mammoth private deck of our category 12 suite - yet another reason the suite was such a great decision! But come on Carnival, you have all these cute little bars and they are never open except for art sales pitches...not all of us want to go crazy on the Lido, a little piano music or classic rock in one of your lovely bars from 10-midnight would be a great idea!
5) Ports: Port Canaveral, Nassau and Freeport. We had booked the NASA excursion in Port Canaveral but NASA cancelled us due to a space shuttle launch (no fault of Carnival and we got a full refund), then the shuttle launch was also cancelled! We took a $12 shuttle to Coco beach for a beach day which was fine, nothing spectacular but a nice beach day. In Nassau we had booked the Atlantis Aquaventure which I had been looking forward to as the highlight of our trip. Hated it. Long lines for the shuttle bus, long lines at Atlantis, long lines and $9 for a locker key to change in a dark cement room at Atlantis, lazy river and several other rides closed, $50 for two beers and a hamburger, more long lines for a towel and a $3.75 bottled water - yuck! It was like a bad day at a Six Flags amusement park. We did like the aquarium which made me feel marginally better about the whole experience. Finally said to heck with it and left for the Nassau straw market which was scary it was in such a marginal area. Next day we were at Freeport which a lot of Cruise Critic folks have hated but we had a good time there. For one thing it is a real working port and my nerdy husband loved standing on our deck (that big, lovely suite stateroom saving the day AGAIN) taking pictures of tugboats and cargo ships and so forth. And the Freeport straw market was nicer; it was where we ended up buying our gifts to take home.
6) The last but not the least: We didn't realize that having a suite would get us VIP boarding and disembarking...and this turned out to be a very big deal. We got on before everyone else (not immediately, there was a wait in a room with a hundred other VIPS's) and we were eating at the buffet and in our room HOURS before everyone else boarded. Same thing getting off. The ship was very late (arrived at 12:30 instead of 10AM) and we had to wait in a lounge from 10:30, but the minute the ship docked an officer came to the lounge and escorted all the VIPs out. We were probably in the first dozen people to leave the ship and I bet a lot of people were waiting around until mid-afternoon. This was such a big deal that I would not sail on the Carnival Pride again unless I had a suite (or some other way of getting VIP status). Unlike other cruise ships, suites don't have butler or concierge or anything like that - you get your big room and deck and your improved boarding and disembarking privileges and that's that - but trust me, it's a big deal. If we sail out of Baltimore again I will economize on extras and get a suite for the privileges and for the extra room and deck size.
Hope this helps you in making your decision on whether to sail the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore. We felt the positives far outweighed the negatives, especially with the suite, and will be sailing again as soon as possible!