I'm a solo cruiser, and don't have a lot of cruise experience. This was only my 4th cruise. The last one was 10 years ago. I didn't give a cruise vacation much thought until I found out that I could depart from Baltimore. No planes, no hotels...sounded good. So I booked on the Carnival PRIDE for the February 13, 2011 sailing to the Bahamas. I read some good and all the negative Carnival PRIDE reviews on Cruise Critic before sailing, so my expectations would not be too high. The reviews ranged from sensational to awful. I had a hard time understanding how people's perceptions could be so different. My only goals for this trip were to get some R&R and enjoy 80 degree weather in the middle of February. The following reflects my experience based on my expectations. Your opinion may vary depending on your experience and expectations for the cruise.
GETTING TO PORT:
For me, a snap. From my home in suburban Philadelphia, it was an hour and 45 minutes. I'm familiar with the area and had no trouble finding the port.
I arrived at 2:30PM and was on the ship, in my room, by 3:05PM. Most of the passengers had arrived earlier. There was no line at the baggage drop or the
parking "booth". The $15/day parking charge is cheaper than the airports I use. I got right through security and waited in a long, but fast-moving check-in line. I'll have to say that Carnival had enough check-in staff to handle the volume. I heard some complaints from the folks who arrived early (if you're real early, you will bump in to the disembarking passengers). I also read some complaints about nobody being there to greet or direct you from A deck once you're onboard. That's true, there isn't anyone there to direct you, but I'm a big boy and was able to find my cabin with no problem. Once settled, I went to the Lobby and bought the soda card ($52.82). I'm a big Diet Coke drinker (ship has Coca Cola products). I'm sure I got my money's worth. A soda at the bar is $2.25 ($1.95 plus 15% service charge). The bartender will pour a can into a glass of ice for you. He won't give you the can.
I found the room squeaky clean and it stayed that way all week. There is plenty of room for a solo traveler. A couple might find it a wee bit tight if both are walking around at the same time. The bed was very comfortable and the cabin staff attentive and unfailingly polite. The room had a couch and a little stool and makeup mirror. The bathroom was good sized. I never had a problem with water pressure or temperature. There is a little aroma (not unpleasant) in the bathroom, probably from the ship's plumbing system. I was always greeted with a sincere smile and a "good morning" or "good afternoon" by all the cabin staff on 1 deck. Satellite TV reception was good throughout the trip. The system now broadcasts local stations from Miami (not Denver). I used the wakeup service twice and it was accurate to the minute. I had no problems with noise after bedtime.
Yes, the ship's Renaissance-themed decor is dark and ornate. Yes, there are sculptures and pictures of nudes. To tell you the truth, I didn't notice the nudes until the second day, when I remembered all the complaints I had read, and was on the lookout for them. I was not offended. You might be. The public restrooms were clean as a whistle. I occasionally bumped into ship's staff cleaning them, apparently on a regular basis. There was also a lot of sweeping, dusting and polishing. I saw nothing anywhere that looked old, worn, or broken. There are a number of hand-sanitizer dispensers located around the ship which I made use of frequently. There are lots of quiet places on 2 and 3 decks where you can sit down and read a book or just watch the world go by. I found it curious that there were no trash bins on 2 and 3 decks. The Lido deck does have a number of recycle stations, but no regular trash containers. This is probably a security thing. It's not a big problem, just be prepared to stick any cocktail napkins, etc. in your pocket until you get to a restroom or your cabin.
I'm not a breakfast eater, so I can't evaluate that meal for you.
I had all my lunches at the Mermaid Grill on Lido deck. Yes, the setup with 5 stations is confusing. I did get the hang of it after a couple of days. If you check out all the stations before eating, each one posts today's menu at the beginning of the line. I had no need to visit more than one station for any meal. I had no problems with long lines or not being able to find a clean table to sit at. The cheeseburgers, hot dogs and fries are good. The pizza is not bad, but it's made with pre-fab crust. The "24-hour ice cream" is a misnomer...it's soft serve (but still good).
I did not use room service, nor did I eat at David's Steakhouse.
I had all my dinner meals in the Main Dining Room (Normandie). Table service was prompt and efficient. Presentation was on par with a fine restaurant. A bar waiter was regularly in the area to take orders, and visited every table at the start of service. Yes, a couple of men attended "formal night" in jeans or shorts. Did it ruin my meal? Nope. The biggest dining complaint I read in other PRIDE reviews was warm (not hot) food. Yes, this is a problem. The only items I was served hot were pasta, soup and steak. All the other food was served warm. I didn't complain because it was not that big a deal, but I found this complaint to be valid. After touring the kitchen on the Behind the Fun tour (more on that later), I have a theory about the warm food. Your waiter takes your order, then enters it into a computer screen. When he/she gets to the kitchen to pick up entrees, each is prepared at a different station (one for steak, one for fish, etc.). Each waiter usually carries 12 covered plates up from the kitchen. So it might take a waiter 3 minutes to visit the stations to collect and cover all 12 plates (if they don't have to wait at a station). Then, depending on your location in the dining room, maybe 90 seconds to travel up from the kitchen (via escalator). The covered entrees are then placed on one of several holding stations, while the appetizer plates are bussed. After that, each of the 12 dinner plates is served individually. So, add up the time since the first entree was plated, and maybe the food's not hot anymore, just warm. No, I have no constructive suggestions on a fix for this. Overall, the food is very good and the selection good. Yes, the Chocolate Melting Cake is sensational. Don't miss it.
There is much picture taking by the ship's photo staff. I experienced no pressure to buy. The prints are expensive.
I'm OK with it. Lots of complaints in other PRIDE reviews. Smoking is limited to certain public areas, and the starboard side of 3 of the open decks.
The production shows were very good. Not Vegas or Broadway, but surprisingly good for a ship. I stuck my head into a couple of the adult comedy shows. Believe me, I'm no choir boy, but I don't think "adult" comedy is funny. If you do, fine with me, there are a number of shows you can attend. Cruise Directors Kirk and Jaime were about what I expected on a Fun Ship cruise. I didn't find them overly talkative or obnoxious. The trivia contests were either impossibly hard or ridiculously easy. The casino has everything you could want; all the table games and lots of slots. I found the other daytime activities hit and miss. Not that they were bad, just not my cup of tea. Bring a good book, just in case. I didn't use the library or the internet. When I embarked on Sunday (!), I found the Chapel locked. Maybe it's prayer by appointment only.
In line with my limited objectives for this trip, I only got off the ship once, in Nassau for 1 hour. I have been to all 3 port areas before. Nassau and Freeport aren't my bag, so I enjoyed staying on the ship in port. I did, however, hear a lot of good comments about shore excursions from other passengers.
BEHIND THE FUN SHIPS TOUR:
$95 and worth every penny as for as I'm concerned. You get backstage in the theater, tour 3 kitchens, the food storage areas, officer's mess, engine control room and the bridge. You are escorted by a guide from the staff who can answer any question you might have about the ship. The time on the bridge is worth the whole $95, if you ask me. You also get 2 group pictures, and 1 with just you and the Captain, along with a couple of souvenirs. If you're on the fence about this tour...do it. It's limited to 2 groups of 16 passengers each, and is conducted at 9:00AM on the last day at sea.
I lucked out here. I chose self-assist, and 1 deck was the first called. There was a crowd waiting in the lounge outside Starbucks, but it wasn't an unruly mob. The ship stopped moving at 8:45AM. At 9:05AM the VIP's were escorted off. Self-assist, deck one was called at 9:10AM. At 9:20AM I was in my car and rolling. I have no complaints, but your experience may vary. There are 2100 passengers who have to funnel through a narrow gangway.
If the PRIDE were a hotel, it would not be the Ritz-Carlton. It wouldn't be Motel 6 either. I'd rate it like a good, major-brand, mid-level hotel like Hilton Garden or Marriott Courtyard. All the elements are here for a great vacation. It's what you make of them and what your expectations are that will measure your enjoyment of the trip. Your experience might be very different than mine. I thought that value for the money was excellent. Would I sail again on PRIDE? Sure. Soon? Could be.