We sailed from Baltimore on the PRIDE for the Easter Caribbean cruise, departing 22 May 2011. This was our second cruise on the PRIDE in the last three years.
Embarkation: Got to Port of Baltimore at 12:30 pm for a 4:30 pm departure. Got parked, checked-in and onboard within 30 minutes. No waiting, and NO VIP check-in. This was impressive.
Cabin: The balcony room is very spacious and having a balcony really pays off in the evening and mornings when having a last drink before bed or morning coffee. The views and sounds of the sea are worth the money for a balcony, no to mention to extra space.
Ship Condition: The PRIDE herself is showing some aging signs. Trim missing in many places around the ship. Paint was slung to cover some rusting and "bubbling" spots, but ended up on balcony decks and railings. She still looks good from afar, but the up-close examination shows her flaws. This is not an issue to avoid the PRIDE, but just be aware that you will notice this aging in places all over the ship.
Food in Dining Room: We only have dinner in the dining room, so thats the perspective of our review. The food is consistently GOOD, sometimes great. Outstanding items are Lobster and Shrimp (done perfectly), Prime Rib, BBQ Ribs (now a favorite - great sauce, fall off the bone tender) and the fillet mignon and short rib combo plate. Their mushroom soup is also great. Our food was Always warm or hot, never cold as some have written about in past reviews, and always cooked to our preference (with is medium rare for steaks). Our servers were very good, attentive, and friendly. Each evening we got a high level summary of tomorrow's activities from on main server, Winston. Drink service was there each evening within 2 to 5 minutes of our arrival, and she was one of the most friendly servers on the ship. Mario, the Maitre'D is very friendly, stopping by our table three times during the cruise. The dining room is definetly a highlight. For the first time we asked for a seating change to a two seat table, and Mario was able to accomodate our request. This was greatly appreciated.
Buffets on Lido Deck: Food is good, and there is a wide selection. People need to be aware that there are four main serving stations, two speciality stations, and Pizza, Hamburger and Hot Dog stations. In morning, you can have have eggs and omeletts made fresh to order for you, and for this we never waited more than five minutes to order. You can always find a serving station taking only one to five minutes waiting to get your food. This is not bad...we never avoided any line or any choice we elected because of the perceived wait.
Davids Steakhouse: A nice experience with quality food equivalent to higher end steakhouses. Best value: Get the 14oz strip, 18 oz ribeye or 24 oz Porterhouse. We figure the cost of a comparable meal at a higher-end steak place to be around $140. At Davids, you pay an extra $30 per person, but its worth it. We have paid around $150, and more, for two at dinner at the high end steak houses and got food of comparable, and sometimes lesser, quality.
Service around the ship. EXCELLENT. Employees were friendly, addressed us each time we passed many of them with a "Hi" or "Hello Sir and Mam". I have seen passed reviews about service that portrayed disappoints from the reviewers. My take on that is there is a very simple approach to service excellence, whether on the PRIDE or your favorite local restaurant. Its called recognition of service with a token of your appreciation, otherwise known as a TIP. Its remarkable the service you get if on the first night of a cruise, you extend a token of your appreciation for service rendered. That simple expression of your appreciation will extend you courtesies from the staff for the entire cruise. The same pertains to the drink service in the dining room, and the servers who come around the lido deck. Our service was excellent for all seven days. For those reviewers that have complained about not being able to get a drink anywhere on this ship or others, we say, get up and walk to the bar that is a mear 20 to 40 feet away depending on where you are at on the decks or within the ship. We think some reviewers lose track that you are one of 2,100 cruisers aboard. Given this, there are times when a drink server may not get your way for 15 or 20 minutes. Two simple practices: 1) our tipping suggestion will reduce time of wait (they will seek you out and make sure you are happy and taken care of because of your extending a tip beyond the automatically computed 15% for their services) and 2) willingness to get-up and walk to the bar to get a drink if you want one. Carnival has taken great consideration into mind to ensure you are never far from a bar or from food. Only takes a little effort to get what you want, and when you want it, on the ship.
Grand Turk. This place is a rain magnet (could be the time of year during which we normally travel...Apri or May). And not all that much going on from an excursion perspective. We had been here before, so took a short stroll around the shops at the cruise port just to take a walk, then headed back to the ship where we enjoyed the Lido Deck main pool by ourselves for an hour.
Half Moon Cay: One of the world's best beaches. Incredible sand, water so clear you can see the bottom for well over a hundred yards out, and very safe for everyone given to slow gradual grade of the deepening water. We have been on five cruises with Carnival, covering the entire caribbean, and this still is our favorite beach stop. This is a stop where you must get off, go to beach, and just relax. Its beautiful here.
Freeport: Don't get why Carnival stops here. Ship gets in at 7:00 am, but many stores don't open til 10:00 am. And, guests have to be back on ship at 1:30 pm. Now, my wife and I don't go on cruises to buy jewelry at cruise ports, so this was no biggie to us. But it seems like a stop that needs to be reconsidered. We do like Nassau when we have stopped there, but Freeport is definetly no Nassau.
Shows: We liked the shows, which are comparable to other Carnival ship shows that we also liked.
Casino: Nicely equipped with table games and video games that appeal to everyone. We spend an hour in the casino nearly everyday, and found this casino very omparable to other cruise ship casinos. There are both smoking and non-smoking areas, but the PRIDE permits smoking in more areas thanb not. The casino seemed very well ventilated, so the smoke didn't seem to pose any issues, and we never heard of anyone complain about it during our cruise.
Debarkation: Ship finally settled back in Baltimore at about 8:10 am. They started calling the walf-off self assit cruisers around 8:30 am. We find the self assist people amazing...how does anyone go on a seven day cruise with one two small or one mmedium carry-on suit case? Still a mystery we will never get. However, we were off the ship as part of the last zone called at 10:50 am. Got through customs and left the lot at 11:25 am. Not bad, no complaints.
Dislikes: Alcoholic drink prices are just way over the top. Carnival might want to consider some sort of past guest discount approach for their repeat cruisers in effort to show their appreciation for continued patronage. Their current sail and sign cruise card can permit such an approach because past guests receive cards showing their level of participation on previous carnival cruises.
Overall: Great cruise, very relaxing and great food and service. We would go on the PRIDE again, and can freely recommend her to others.