My wife and I sailed as part of a family cruise, on an itinerary my folks had sailed twice before. (Last run was Sept 2010) We were nervous about sailing Carnival, since we'd heard it was down-market and less enjoyable. In the past, I've described Carnival as being for "dope-smoking teenagers," based on what I've seen in ports. The folks are experienced cruisers, though, and assured us they'd had a pleasant time on their previous cruises.
The departure terminal is fine, with efficient porters you pull up to, and the usual rip-off parking was outdoor, but secure. ($15/day, prepay only) The lady guiding us into the facility was rude, abrupt, and yelling. I know it sucks herding a bunch of tourists, but a little good humor goes a long way. Check-in was fast and pleasant, significantly faster than Port Canaveral, though we did pre-print our booking pass, and had nothing unusual about our arrangements. The gangway was stable and sheltered, and boarding went through Deck 2.
The decor of the Pride is Baroque in the extreme, there are no edges left un-filligreed. My wife, of noticeably Italian descent, said the Deck 3 seating area reminded her of every old Italian lady's house, if she didn't have to worry about the cost. All over the ship, seating areas were ample, comfortable, and pleasant. There were some problems with modulating the interior lights on 2 and 3, and they continued all week, with flickering and surging. The game room is a treat, with good sound and well-placed pocket doors, though the chairs are showing significant wear. You can tell that upkeep has been cut back a bit.
The food quality was uniformly uninspiring, but acceptable. I did raise an eyebrow at some of the descriptions, like the Chateaubriand being described as a shoulder cut. (?) At each and every meal, you could count on the presentation being slightly off from normal or predictable. We were served Kielbasa as breakfast sausage, Veal Parmesan without an accompanying pasta, and a diet pumpkin pie that was neither pumpkin, nor a pie. The buffet food was similar in most ways, slightly strange and seemingly abundant. The buffet's sandwich station was excellent, but staffed by one very harried man most of the time, and usually featured a huge line. The Mozzarella, Arugula, and Roasted Pepper sandwich is a gem, on the best bread we saw all week. The bread served with dinner was mostly elderly, and often clanged when it hit the plate. Lobster tails were generous enough, but there's more on that later in the review. An important food-quality note is that the Pride does not take on supplies in Baltimore, only in Port Canaveral, since the supply chain won't be disrupted by snow. The food on the first three nights is pretty old, and the bread is downright ancient.
Food service absolutely bummed us out. Nothing was consistent, and simple things were frequently overlooked. We never had the correct number of spoons, the forks were pre-set some nights and placed with the courses on others. We were seated at tables 288 and 289, with 10 in our group. Our back was up against the wall, which certainly explains some leaning and bumping, but why could we never seem to get all 10 people included in any given drink service? Usually only 7 or 8 would have a beverage. On the topic of beverages, I'm a Coke Zero drinker, and was more than willing to shell out the $50 for the soda plan. At dinner, I didn't see a bar waiter until the 4th night of the cruise. When I requested my sodas from the server, Camilo or the assistant server, Elizabeth, they often simply never came. Since we were seated by the rear entrance to the dining room, I eventually just got up and retrieved my own drinks from the bar outside, which frequently had bands playing during our seating. Getting your own drinks seems to draw the ire of the staff, who greeted my return with a mention that there is a bar waiter who would be glad to help. Oh really? We'd never met him. The service during the meals is slow, incomplete, and forgetful. On lobster night, one in our party requested a lobster tail after completing another main course, and was scolded for not telling our server earlier. The suspiciously-absent Maitre D', Manuel, made exceedingly long, high-volume announcements during the meals, usually followed by pounding dance music and some kind of half-hearted dance routine by the waiters. Don't dance, get my Coke. We didn't meet Manuel until night 5, and he stopped by for about 2 minutes. Not much to say about him. On the last night, I timed our bar waiter. He took 33 minutes to retrieve my Coke Zero, forgot the Diet Coke my mother had ordered, and came back with that only after a reminder about 20 minutes later. Bar service was pretty bad, but the waiter did hook my brother up with a good Scotch, and was very pleasant. I just don't think there are enough of them, in any of the service positions. Everybody is harried and tense.
The buffet was just plain understaffed and undersized for that large a ship, and most of the lines were closed except for rush hours. Bummer.
We didn't even bother trying the steakhouse upstairs. Prove to me you can deliver an acceptable meal before I give you $30 a head for what would be served in the dining room on a Norwegian ship.
The stateroom service, however, was great. They took wonderful care of us, were flexible with timing, and gave us the nice touches that we appreciate. At one point, my wife was confined to quarters, ill, and our attendant was very helpful, providing fresh glasses and towels. Linens were of good quality, fresh and clean. The bed was pleasant, and the shower was larger than we were accustomed to, a nice surprise. Room service was generally fine, though the printed menu is very minimal. They might have what you want, they might not. They have great Jell-O, though. The Chicken Fajita Wrap is a pleasant change of pace. No line is provided on the receipts to tip the room service runners, so I had to write in an appropriate gratuity each time. Not a big deal, but I'm sure it impacts them negatively when people aren't reminded that room service is still a service, even if it's complimentary.
Where the Pride shined was its medical center. My wife was struck very, very ill in the middle of the night, and when we called guest services, a nurse promptly called back and met us in the infirmary. The nurse was very knowledgeable, a skilled practitioner. A shot of Promethazine and a couple of tablets to go, and she was on the mend. I can't say enough good things about our nurse, she really came through in a pinch. The rest of the ship had its problems, but being willing to help a guest in distress is a wonderful thing to be able to report.
Entertainment was strange. The cruise is obviously marketed to a certain demographic, with plenty of leg, inter-leg, and low-angle work by the performers. Dancing and choreography weren't the tightest, but I'm no dancer. They did better than I would, for sure. The comedians were booked in a forward lounge on the first floor with very limited seating, so it was tough to get in to see a show. They were funny enough, and I enjoyed it. The juggler/physical comedian, Max Winfrey, was awesome, hilarious, and talented. I wish he had more shows, as everybody had a ball. The cruise director, Kirk, was another overly-long-announcement offender, with overhead announcements coming up during other events like trivia, often past the 3-minute mark. The cruise staff was pleasant enough, though the Canadian guy was kind of snarky. Trivia was hit-or-miss, either insanely difficult, or everybody got all of the answers. They were fun, though, and the family enjoyed competing for the plastic "Ship-on-a-stick" prizes. The shipboard musicians are literally either cool old piano players, or people playing a guitar over a karaoke program on a Mac, plugged into an amp. The one-man-band guys were omnipresent and annoying, with enough Sweet Caroline and Jimmy Buffett to make me want to gag. The pianist, Luigi, was a talented artist, but they do him no favors timing his set in the middle of a lounge full of people reading, at 2:30 in the afternoon.
The downstairs coffee service is great, provided you get the talented Croatian girl, and not the less-qualified Thai girl. The drinks were outstanding, and the desserts were generous and delicious. It was totally worth the upcharge, especially considering the on-demand buffet coffee was thin, watery, and light tan.
Disembarkation was efficient and fast enough, we were out by about 10:30. Good stuff.
I had a great cruise with my family not because of, but in spite of Carnival's service. It's obviously a nice ship, with great potential. But the cuts at Carnival are too close to the bone, and the cruising experience is suffering because of it.