This was a first-time cruise for myself, second for my husband (though they were nearly 30 years apart so that doesn't really count). This was something we had talked about for 17 years but had never had the opportunity to do, so we were very, very excited to receive a down payment on the cruise as a gift the year before. Since it was a gift, we did not have any choice in ship, destination, or embarkment...however, other than stopping in FL, we were very happy with the length and destinations. This was supposed to be AWESOME! Key words were "supposed to be"...I will NEVER go on a cruise again...
EMBARKMENT: Due to inclement weather the ship arrived and departed very late, which wasn't an issue for us, until is was nearly 11pm or so and we were standing on a freezing deck for a half hour listening to other passengers talk and joke while the safety meeting was taking place. We had been up since 6am to travel to Baltimore and all we wanted to do was sleep in a warm cabin. For safety reasons I was happy to attend (not that you have a choice, they check each room to make sure everyone is out), but the safety officer had no microphone and they line you up three people deep so not only could I not hear over the wind and chatter around me, but I couldn't see either.
SEAS: I grew up on a fisherman's boat. This is my first cruise but not my first time to sea or on a boat...The seas were rough. The boat rocked literally from the time the boat pulled out until our return 7 days later. And not a little - A LOT - all the time - day and night. It did not get better - EVER. There were times I had to leave the comedy club or restaurant because they were in the worst spots for rocking. And at first I thought it was just me, but by the middle of the cruise there were a lot of others complaining about it. The worst part is is took almost three weeks - 3 WEEKS - for the rocking sensation to go away after we got off the boat...If I am ever forced to take another cruise again I will leave out of a quieter port and make sure that I am not out to sea more than 1 day at a time.
ROOM: We had been booked an obstructed-view stateroom, which was awesome. The room was huge. The bathroom was big enough for two of us to be in there at the same time (as long as we weren't using the sink together). There was plenty of closet space, a couch, a vanity, and a mini fridge (they keep it stocked with expensive drinks - just ask them to remove them and not re-stock it). This stateroom had french type doors that open out to a view of a life boat and a small sliver of water. The only complaints about the room was that the french doors had been nailed shut (and not professionally), they were supposed to open, and the TV was so old and hard to see.
DINING: There are multiple food choices but not nearly as many as you think. There are more food options at one run down casino in Atlantic City than were on the ship. I am a foodie, my husband is not, and this was one of the biggest disappointments on the ship for both of us. Free options consist of a buffet which provides three meals a day, with a pizza counter that stay open 24 hour. Guy Ferrari has a burger station - I say station because it' not an actual restaurant or eatery. They pre-make fries and burger patties by the bulk and have a toppings bar - you take your pre-made burger and go. A taco station (same concept as the burger station) that I only saw open for lunch once, but always served breakfast burritos in the morning. Rooms service, which consists of a few sandwiches and a couple of salads - no fries - just chips.
And, most importantly, what we called the "free" restaurant. This is a very nice restaurant everyone can go to with a pre-set menu that changes nightly. They have a full wait staff and the only charges are for drinks and if you upgrade your meal to an upgrade option at the bottom of the menu. Get the "any time dinning" upgrade - otherwise you could be locked into a small window to be seated and stand in line forever waiting for a table. The first two nights the food was amazing, and one night steak and lobster were on the free portion of the menu. After that the free restaurant was hit or miss. There was a night or two my husband even left his food untouched because it was so bad. What was awesome though was that you can order as MANY items of the menu as you want. Can't decide between stuffed shrimp and steak - order both. Want to try all of the appetizers - go ahead. Want more than one dessert - have at it. There is no limit on what you can order or how many times you can order. We regularly ordered the dish we knew was safe and the dish we wanted to try but weren't sure if we liked...it was pretty awesome!! No tipping is required here - it's included at the bill you receive on your last night.
The buffet was a different story - we ate there for breakfast and items to pick up for the room, we were never impressed. The food was always grade school cafeteria quality or less. The burger station was ok. The fries were very, very good, the burger was just ok. The taco station was horrible. We did not get a chance to order room service but I did see other people's trays sitting outside their door. The sandwiches looked really good - but then again the plates were still full and uneaten - so who knows. We did order the continental breakfast but stick to the cereal, coffee, and juice. The ice cream station is also a joke - it's a soft serve machine with no toppings...and of the two only was one working the whole trip.
There are also a few FEE based eating options. A coffee shop, a sushi place, and the "special" restaurant. We did not eat at the coffee shop or sushi restaurant. Given that the quality of food went down each day we were there, I would say if you want sushi do it the first day or two while all of the food on board is fresh. We did pay the $35 a person up-charge to eat at the "special" restaurant the last night. It was AMAZING. Well worth the cost. Bring nice clothes, it is fancy, and while we didn't order more than one main dish each, we did order two appetizers each. You DO tip here...it cost us $80 without drinks - for two people. Happy to do it!
ENTERTAINMENT: We go to AC a great deal, and while the shows there are ok, they beat out what we watched on the boat by a mile. They weren't bad - they just weren't good either. The comedians were ok, the "shows" were really just crew members singing songs from the 80's, and the rest of the shows were retirement home versions of old game shows. Not good. It's certainly not Broadway or even Off Broadway quality...not what I was expecting.
ACTIVITIES: This is were it got really bad. Every "activity" is really a sales pitch for their spa, jewelry store, or liquor store. From their "pamper party" to "free shot night" - it's all designed to sign you up for services and goods. I didn't pay $1000 to be sold items. The entire cruise is like a giant time share sales pitch...The two free (half) shots we got weren't worth listening to a 30 min aggressive sales pitch. I went to the pamper party, which was supposed be a mini facial and provide beauty tips and tricks, but was really a sales pitch for their Spa services and some sort of bronzing powder they were selling "exclusively" on the boat. I did sign up for a massage package, which cost me $150 after they included the automatic gratuity, but before and after my massage the massage therapist gave me a 10 min sales pitch on this "exclusive" alkaline oil they only sell "on the boat", but wait...if I buy it right now, it will only cost me as much as one massage (you know, the one I paid $150 for and had to listen to a sales pitch during)...I never do things like this for myself and to have it ruined by a sales pitch was really upsetting.
Their other "activities" included a seminar on how to pick quality gemstones - which of course came with a catalog of "exclusive" items you could only purchase on the boat, and bingo which ran between $20 and $40 a game. My favorite was when they tried to sell me a silver plated charm bracelet with glued in "crystals" (aka glass) for $29.99 that was originally selling in their ship store for $120.....please. I can go to my mall and get a solid sterling silver charm bracelet with hand-set CZ stones for less than $120...why would I pay that much for your junk??!!
They did have a few musicians that played here and there and trivia games through out the ship but nothing worth participating in out of anything other than sheer boredom.
FITNESS/RECREATION: The gym was nice and came with steam rooms and a jacuzzi - which was the only jacuzzi worth going to. There were three pools on board, but my neighbor has a bigger pool in their backyard. The pool is a weird shape so that a section all the way around is for sitting and only a small section in the middle is deep enough to stand or swim. Each pool has a jacuzzi but the two family pools had cold jacuzzis. Not that it mattered, because of the weather the pools were too cold (not heated or covered) and the jacuzzis - meant to hold five people - had 10-20 people every time we went to use one.
They also have a small water play area for kids next to the two water slides, which were ok. A very small arcade that was closed every time we went there, and a mini golf station we never saw.
MOVIES: They offered movie on the big screen out at the pool. But they were always at night, outside, when the wind kicked up and it was cold. They do offer in room movies for $5 but the room TV was an old heavy tube with poor video quality. We had to watch with the lights off just to see the screen, so I certainly wasn't paying extra to watch a movie on it.
CASINO: They have a casino. Slots, tables, roulette, craps. If you gamble long enough the first day or two they will give you a free drink card to use in the casino for the duration of your trip - but I wouldn't make it a goal. It was very expensive!
DRINKS/SODA: I bought the soda package for him (around $50). I didn't need one - so I thought - because I drink coffee, tea, and water which were supposed to be free. However, the powdered tea and lemonade, along with the water, is on the 9th floor - one station being outside.The tea was gross...I wish I had bought the soda package. Every time you want a drink you have to trek up there. The soda package isn't good everywhere - so check before you order.
Neither one of us drink enough to make a drink package worth it. You are allowed one unopened 750ml bottle of wine per person in you CARRY ON and up to one 12 pack of canned or boxed juice/soda per person - on the day of embarkment (don't try to bring anything on from a port - they will confiscate it until the end of the cruise). However, if you bring wine make sure it has a screw top because it's $15 to have it uncorked. I pre-ordered a 12 pack of water ($3) to be delivered to the room and then used the empty bottles to fill up my water and carry my wine around in. Don't think it's worth buying a bottle on board either - their prices were outrageous. $85 for a bottle of Amaretto - $8-$10 for a pina colada.
SERVICE: This is where they excelled. Every employee was awesomely nice. Everything was clean. Everyone was pleasant. Everyone works 7 days a week, 13 hour days on several month long tours. One of our wait staff works 7 months on and has 2 months off. They get a lunch off one day a week - otherwise it's 7 days a week, 13 hour days. At the end of the trip they give you a bill for gratuity. They break it down to about $12 a day per person and then divide that in unequal portions between three categories of employees. Wait staff gets the highest amount, room staff gets the next highest amount, and misc staff gets the least. You can go to the desk and change the total amount of the gratuity and how much each group gets if you want, but even though I'm not a tipper and I felt like $1000 to get on the cruise should have covered it, they work so hard I was happy to give it to them. I did change it so our room staff got the highest amount because they took the best care of us.
WIFI/CELL SERVICE: There is a per day fee for the use of wifi or cell service. I wish I had paid for it so I had something else to do...It's $5 a day for FB and Twitter...$25 for full internet coverage so you can check your email, move money around, and talk with your kids. 7 days was too long to be out of touch.
TIPS/TRICKS: Every night they take pictures and sell them - account for the extra cost. Don't forget gratuity at the end of the trip. You can set a spending limit for guests in your cabin. If you have a gambler/spender you should do this at the start of the cruise. Bring a power strip. There is only one outlet in the whole room - none in the bathroom. DO NOT GO TO THE MEDIC unless you are dying - one of our excursion mates had to miss an excursion - with no refund - because she felt sea sick the night before. They quarantined her to her room for the whole day, even though she felt better by morning.
Bring a deck of cards, book, or something to do if you're bored. Remember that the ship's store is limited and expensive, and laundry service starts at $4-$8 per garment...pack well. Regardless of what anyone says no one is really willing to barter in port and souvenirs were expensive. $25 for a pre-printed t-shirt that looked like it came from Wal-Mart $10 for a lunch from a lunch truck, $8 to take the taxi...it adds up quick.
OVERALL: I'm not picky. My favorite vacation was a camping trip to Niagara Falls with two little kids. I drove there, we were broke, we slept in a tent. With that said I must be destination people, because this was horrible. Being on the boat was like spending a $1000 to be in a floating, dizzy, prison. I was bored and irritated by the lack of real activities and the constant sales pitches. I felt like the commercials and the website were very, very misleading. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. The only thing that saved this vacation-of-a-life-time for me was the excursions we booked. I wish that we had started with a shorter cruise that had less sea time and more port time. For two people (not counting the gambling) the entire trip with souvenirs, excursions, upgraded meals, drinks, etc. costs us about $2500. I had a year to save for it, so it wasn't too bad but I'd rather have taken that money and flown to the Bahamas and spent 7 days on the islands. It probably would have cost the same and I would have been happier.
**I didn't rate the excursions because we only booked one through the ship and they had little to do with Carnival or the Pride. I was very happy with my excursions - I even enjoyed FL (no excursion - just walked around), but I was so happy to be off the boat it probably wouldn't have mattered where I was and what I was doing. I will say that booking through Carnival takes some pressure off of figuring out the logistics but the best excursion was one we booked on our own.
Taxis outside of the port will take you to a variety of places and bring you back - just nice to get off the boat.
AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!! Well worth the money!!
Bus tour and snorkeling - very short but very nice. Lunch included - was glad I went - next time I will book longer snorkeling package.