My family are long-time Disney vacationers, but this time we decided to try our hand at cruising. We selected the Carnival Pride due to our proximity to Baltimore. After some initial hesitation after boarding the boat, we relaxed and had a blast. By the end of the cruise, we had reserved a spot on a future Carnival cruise!
There's plenty of it.
The boarding process was very smooth and did not involve excessive waiting or line-standing. Things went smoothly from the moment we arrived at the port until we got on board. Even a torrential rainstorm on arrival day didn't screw things up at all. The room was ready when advertised and was roomier than we had expected. We had heard horror stories about glorified broom closets for cabins, but ours was more than roomy enough for my wife and I and our teen daughter. The cabin stewards did a good job of cleaning the room unobtrusively and keeping everything stocked and the towel animals were a nice greeting More
when we returned to the cabin. When we were out on deck during the sea days, the waiters circling the deck were fast and efficient and always seemed to be available. The Normandie Dining Room was fabulous. Our table team of Gairy and Peter were, hands-down, the best waiters we have ever dealt with, in any restaurant. They were always on hand just when we needed something and were absent when we wanted to eat peacefully. Remember: good service does not mean hovering over my shoulder waiting for me to need something. The food was surprisingly good. We had read some of the stories about people complaining about the food but after experiencing it for a full week, I'm guessing those complainers are the sorts of people who are never happy unless they are complaining or they are expecting something like it was hand-prepared by Wolfgang Puck just for them at every meal. Take it from me, I like to eat and I loved the food. The melting chocolate cake dessert was fabulous night after night. The comedy shows and the magic show were a lot of fun and very entertaining. My daughter experienced the heck out of Circle C and we barely saw her except on excursions and at dinner. She had a blast and is still texting all of her friends from the group.
The bad. Not much of it and mostly just nit-pickings. The Lido buffet on embarkation day is a little confusing. All of the buffet stations serve different food, but a lot of people didn't seem to know this and we heard a bit of grumbling about lack of variety and then those same people complaining when they saw others with different foods. The other complaint I had was that the Taj Mahal shows seem to have been designed in 1988, and not updated except for the costumes and dancers since then. The songs and routines were very dated, but the dancers and singers did the best they could with the material and we were entertained nonetheless. On the beach day at Half Moon Cay the buffet was a little lacking, and not really convenient to where the beach was. That said, the food they provided was tasty and there was plenty of it - just not with a lot of variety.
The ugly. The crew work a TON of hours. Every so often we would run into a crewmember that we recognized from a different job at a different time of day. It was actually a little uncomfortable seeing them working so many hours. Even at my regular job I don't work those sorts of hours 7 days a week. They do it, do it well, and do it with a smile (except for that one grumpy guy carving ham at the buffet - but that could have just been an off day for him). The crew were positively Disney-like with their work ethic and cheer.
Things of note:
I read a lot of complaints about the decor. I'll be honest, yes you see some large reproductions of classic art and some of it has nudes. Really, though, after a day and a half, it just blends into the background. You really don't notice it unless you focus on it.
The hammocks at the adults-only deck called Serenity are a great way to deal with ship movement. The deck may move under you, but they don't so they are very relaxing.
The photographers are all studio-quality and you really need either an iron will not to buy fabulous portraits and candids of yourself, or you need to budget in some money for picture buying.
The excursions are a little uneven. If you set your expectations a little lower than the "once in a lifetime!" type of writeups you see, you'll have a better time. They're good, but be realistic with yourself. Yes, you can swim with a dolphin or interact with stingrays (we did both), but hearing what some fellow cruisers were complaining about makes me think they walked into these things thinking they were getting a private lagoon with their own private pod of pet dolphins or stingrays. These excursions are volume businesses and you will be with larger groups. Everyone there wants to interact with the dolphins and stingrays, and there's only so much time for everyone to do so. Also, if you can, I highly recommend bringing your own mask and snorkel if you are doing any excursion that requires them. My wife and daughter had a lot of trouble with the loaners and their enjoyment suffered as a result. I brought my own and had no problems whatsoever.
Don't stand in line for the Normandie. Your seat is assigned and you'll sit in the same seat whether you walk in at the end of the line or wait for half an hour to be first in line. Get your portraits taken while the rest of the lemmings are in line, and then when the line disappears into the dining room, just walk in right behind them and voila, you're in the same seat!
Use the room service breakfast as your alarm clock. They are really good about getting the food to you at the time you request.
Eat in the Normadie for lunch and breakfast a few times. You will get different seats and different companions and the experience changes each time as a result. We had a lot of fun watching people who did not budget their time well running across the pier to get back onto the ship before it left Nassau.
The galley tour is free and enjoyable and adds a little something to the whole dining experience.
Wait until later in the week to buy pictures. Its easy to buy them each night since they look so good, but if you have some self-control and wait until later, you can really do some comparison shopping and decided which ones are the best, rather than just the best of that day.
If you like comedy, go to both the family-friendly and non-family-friendly shows. You'll see more material that way even if there is some overlap, but not too much.
If you sit in the upper level at the Taj Mahal, sit in the second row. The seats are tiered so that you get a decent view unless you are sitting behind Shaquille O'neal. The first row seems cool, but you will watch the show through the glass railing. Kinds kills the experience a bit.
The internet cafe costs money to use UNLESS you log into Carnival.com. Makes sense when you think about it since they'd be dumb to restrict access to their own marketing material, but if you want to do some research on the excursions or look into future sailings, you can do it free of charge.
If you want some free alcohol, the "art auction" provides free champagne and you are not obligated to buy anything or even stay past the observation time.
Yes, the deck does move. Don't sweat it. Just walk single file down the hallways so you're not bumping into each other as the ship moves. Also, if you're not the first one in the line, its kind of amusing to watch the person in front of you apparently weaving down the hallway like they're drunk. If you're prone to seasickness or feeling it, take some Bonine or get the seasickness patch. Once my wife started taking the Bonine, she relaxed, felt better and enjoyed the trip. Less