Port of Baltimore/Check In
We took a cab from our Park/Stay/Cruise participating hotel. The driver was new & got lost twice! Once he took us to some secured area of the port and the security guard didn't do much to hide her irritation with all of us. It was slightly amusing because my husband ended up telling the driver how to get to port and we're not from the area - the taxi driver was pretty dense. When we finally made it to the drop off area, we ended up dragging our own bags to the baggage trolley. We thanked the baggage loader three times for helping us - he either didn't speak English or was mad because the cab guy dropped us off in the wrong area.
Once at the entrance we were greeted by some nice port employees that helped direct us to the line we needed to stand in. The line was slow but moved steadily. The announcer repeatedly came across the loud speakers telling people to open their passports to their pictures for quicker service. When we got to the security area where they looked over the passports, they checked ours out and then lightly teased our daughter about whether she was excited to be going to Alaska (our daughter was 8 years old and the look on her price was priceless), she corrected him and said we were going to the Bahamas. He smiled and told her that was the right answer and waved us on through the next checkpoint. We were impressed with the number of employees wearing bunny ears - a nice touch for all the kids since it was Easter Day.
Our bags went through the x-ray machines and we went through the scanners - no requests to open our baggage and remove anything. We brought on one large bottle of wine and one 12 pack of Sprite.
We were given surveys asking if we'd been sick in the past day or two, and we had to sign off on that. They pointed us to a different line where we waited for someone at the next desk to attach the necessary credit card to our Sign & Sail cards. We were then sent to yet another line (this place sure did like lines) to wait until our zone number was called. We waited for about 15 minutes and when our zone was called we went to another area where they took quickie portraits of the families before getting onto the gangway and loading onto the ship.
We're not new to traveling or going through customs.. and yes, while the check in process was quick, I felt a little bit like cattle and very frazzled. Perhaps on the next cruise it won't be as stressful? The portraits they captured of us was comical - the looks on our faces reflected the cattle/frazzled feelings and perhaps a touch of "deer in headlights". While it was amusing when we saw the pictures, we refrained from spending the outrageous fees attached to those pictures as well as many others. The only pictures we would buy were 2 from the elegant night. Per pose it was $21 a sheet!
On the ship - first impressions
For me walking on the covered gangway to get onto the ship really made my stomach turn. I get slightly claustrophobic and it was really hot. Minutes later when we walked onto the ship and entered the lobby area I needed fresh air. The lobby was bustling with so much "sign up here" activities that I opted to take a Bonine instead (something I really should of done before getting on the ship) and washed it down with a "Miami Vice" (Piña Colada/Strawberry Daiquiri). Once I found my sea legs, I was good to go for the majority of the trip - only occasionally needing a drop of motion sickness stuff that was for behind my ears - if anything, it smelled nice.
The lobby was completely packed to the gills with bodies and chaos. Everyone was sitting around with their random carry on luggage while waiting for their rooms. The ship's staff had various tables set up for David's Steakhouse reservations, Unlimited Soda Cards, and some Wine Package table...something like purchase 5 bottles for $99 and they'd be served to you at dinner throughout the week? We didn't get this, but our other part of our group did and truly enjoyed it.
Note: If you're interested in eating at David's - and you're carting around children... be sure to check out the Camp Carnival itinerary first! We were surprised at how little we could really utilize Camp Carnival's programs, but thankfully we had a little dumb luck on our chosen reservation time - (a Wednesday at 7pm) - thankfully Camp Carnival was open to watch our kids during this time (see more details about Camp Carnival and why this was any question).
We also signed our daughter up for the unlimited soda card. This worked great for the other family we traveled with whose children regularly enjoyed sodas, but our daughter didn't utilize her card to its fullest potential. She's just not a soda drinker and in hind sight, we will not purchase another soda card in the future unless her habits change. She enjoys milk, lemonade, tea, and water - which were all included.
Our staterooms were ready around 3pm (apparently this was a little earlier than the norm?). Our stateroom was a standard balcony on the 4th (Main) floor in room 4160. The other family traveling with us had a similar stateroom but in 4178 - which was also nice.
We chose ahead of time to wait until we were on the ship to book any shore excursions. It was a complete gamble due to last minute availability, but our reason for waiting was that we had heard excursions booked early may not necessarily be canceled due to inclimate weather and you may have to suffer your excursion in less than perfect weather conditions. The excursion desk told us this included beach excursions - they rarely cancel them even if it is supposed to be a complete wash out. Here is where we lost in the gamble. One of the excursions that I wanted our family to participate in was the dolphin experience for myself and our daughter. Unfortunately they had long been booked up - it was Spring Break/Easter week after all. Later in the week we heard an announcement overhead that some spots had opened up for the dolphin experience at Atlantis (in Nassau) but by then we had already booked a different excursion. Long story short, I'd recommend weighing your preferences. If there is something you must do - regardless rain or shine, then book ahead of time.
Other than the dolphin excursion, we were able to book our other excursions without any difficulties. We also did the booking from our televisions in our staterooms - nice and convenient (especially if your remote works)!
The Shows on the Ship
I don't think any of us were blown away by any of the Vegas-type shows. The dancers tried really hard and I think I could have watched them dance versus listening to the singers - I didn't care for them too much. Not to say the singers didn't try or were horrible - they just weren't great.
There was one show that I liked and that was more for the comedy mushed into it - it was the first night's show. Kirk, the Cruise Director (who did a good job), asked all the men who would do anything for their wife, yada yada... best Tarzan impression and an elderly gentleman from North Carolina named Harry won. It was hysterical - when he did his version, Kirk suggested that it appeared he needed a defibrillator the way he (Harry) was pounding on his chest. Harry and his wife had a great sense of humor, and they won a lot of great stuff at the end of the cruise.
There was a ventriloquist show and I didn't like that at all. I love ventriloquist acts, but this guy was really terrible. I will say that from other reviews, I don't appear to hold the majority opinion on this as the others said they loved the show. I can only describe the guy as coming off as creepy. Even our daughter and the kids from the family we traveled with were getting creeped out by this guy. ::shudder::
Vroom was another show we saw. We went because we were spying on our daughter to see if she was having fun and behaving herself - Camp Carnival took them to this show. The show had a lot of dull moments and you could tell when the kids would get bored (ants in the pants syndrome). The expression on our daughter's face was hysterical when the last act of guy dancers came on stage and ripped their pants off and were "dancing in their underwear". Ultimately, I just thought the show seemed dated.
My husband and I watched the Love & Marriage show. Of the shows we made it to, I thought this one was the second funniest one to go to. If my husband wasn't such a stick in the mud and I could have gotten him to get on stage, I know we would've won that game! :)
Normandy's was really wonderful. Our waiter's Mario and Guna were so attentive and personable. After learning our drink/food preferences, they remembered them for the rest of the cruise. I preferred Normandy's for dinner over Mermaids (more on that in a moment). They didn't have the best steaks I've ever tasted, but they were pretty delicious. Our daughter enjoyed the macaroni and cheese each night and I have to admit it was really pretty good - our daughter was such a good sport and would let me and my husband sneak a few bites for ourselves. It was always too much food to eat, but it was hard not to try it all. The chocolate melting cake was as delicious as everyone says; however, if we had to nitpick we'd say it needs a little more cake and a little less melting - you run out of cake and end up eating straight melting (which is essentially a rich tasting runny hot fudge). It gets to be too much at the end.
Mermaids was always a little bit of a fiasco on sea days. The lines were always long, and it was too spread out. It would take us 20 minutes or more to get our lunches together, only to realize once we sat down we'd be missing something and we'd have to get back up and go back on the hunt. The cheeseburgers, nuggets, hot dogs and fries were just outside of Mermaids. The burgers, hot dogs and fries were probably the best - we all hated the nuggets were pretty gross (dried out).
Ultimately, I'd have to say that Mermaids was my least favorite only because of the frustrations involved with just getting your food.
David's Steakhouse was good, but a little too fancy for my palette. I am an extremely picky eater though. The steaks were good, but I've had better steaks at Outback. They accommodated my request for a table next to a window and the views of the sunset were beautiful! I'm definitely not the best person to review the food here though - I'm talking about how delicious their bar food was - so take this part of the review with a grain of salt.
We loved room service! Talk about spoiling someone rotten! Each night we'd check off what breakfast tidbits (cereal, coffee, fruit, oatmeal, toast, bagel, orange juice, etc) we wanted for the next morning, and would hang it on outside of our door. And every morning the delivery employee showed up right on time with everything we'd asked for! If we were still hungry we'd go upstairs and "brave" the Mermaids restaurant and get an omelet and their delicious hash browns. The room service coffee tasted great to me, but I heard a lot of folks say that they preferred the pricey "high octane" stuff in the coffee shop downstairs. Free is much tastier to me!
We also used room service on a couple late nights. Around 10pm we'd get the munchies. Our daughter would ask for a PB&J sandwich, and I'd want some toast and milk or something like that. We always tipped our room service delivery people a couple bucks, and they in turn always got our orders right and would come on time. Definitely try the room service!
A quick note on the alcoholic beverages - they were inconsistent, but good just the same. They were certainly overpriced in my mind, but we expected it and took part of the "Drink of the Day" (aka: DOD) specials when we could.
This was perhaps one of our biggest disappointments, but in all fairness it was Spring Break/Easter and there were a ship load of kids! The location of camp carnival is so poor to say the very least. The lack of natural light was obvious and it just seemed so dull and dark in there. It's cramped conditions and poor efficiency (when it came to lines and picked ups and drop offs) was a nightmare. The counselors were great with our kids, but they were spread way too thin on the kid to counselor ratio - again, probably because of the holidays.
Another large frustration for us were the inconsistent times that CC was even open. And if they were open, a lot of the activities required parental participation. We didn't feel like we got our money's worth out of this program. It did get a little better with the lines as the week went on, but I feel like there is a lot of room for improvement with Pride's version of CC.
All of this being said - we're not the type of parents to drop and run and not come back until late night. Our daughter actually begged us to take her there whenever they were open for activities. They had one late night "party" for the kids which she loved, but the late night parties after were only if you paid them the extra babysitting fees. Bummer.
The night before debarkation included a lot of mixed feelings. We were grateful that we would be home soon, but we were going to miss those relaxing naps and the beautiful balcony views and amazing weather.
The day of debarkation our family decided to do the self-assist while the other party chose to have help with their bags. Being back in Baltimore, we just wanted to get off the ship and head home (another 2 ½ hours drive away) - so for us it felt like debarkation took some time. Floor 1 was called off first and they took forever. Floor 8 was next and those guys knew how to move because it wasn't any time before our floor was called. We didn't even try the elevators (too busy) so we huffed it down the stairs with our bags.
Once off the ship, customs was a breeze and we were on our way.
The Worst Part of the Trip
I will rethink the time of year that we decide to go on our next cruise with Carnival. The kids had mostly behaved themselves through the week until the 2nd to last night we were on board. Our room neighbors apparently didn't think much of allowing their gaggle of children run amuck at 10pm while (I'm assuming) they were blowing their money at the casino or taking in a show. They were making so much noise and creating such a disturbance that we asked them in a nice way to shut up. These kids appeared to age between 10-16. Not all of the kids belonged in our neighbor's cabin, but they sure did pack in there and started shouting and carrying on. Finally when they went out on to the balcony and started throwing trash over it and talking trash I called security for their own safety. Security fell over themselves to help us and 10 minutes later I heard them knock on their door and hush them up. In retaliation, 10 minutes after that, the kids called our room - laughed when I answered and then hung up. I was ready to explode I was so angry. As I got ready to put the phone on Do Not Disturb (thank goodness for that feature), security called and checked in on us. I told them about the crank call, but told them not to worry about that for now. They still sent someone back over to their room and it was at that point that the kids finally shut up.
We think their parents were notified because those boys were complete angels from that point on.
The Best Part of the Trip
This entire trip really set the bar high. We can't think of any other vacation we'd rather do again - and are working towards another one, only this time we're looking at leaving out of Norfolk on Carnival's Glory (it's a little closer for us).
Blue Lagoon and the days at sea were our favorite. The relaxing random nap times we took in our cabin with the door open and a warm breeze lulling us to sleep. It was wonderful!
I'm happy to answer any questions anyone may have... just let me know!