Getting There Early
Coming from Pittsburgh in January with our own air bookings, we decided to travel a day early to allow extra time for bad weather. We flew into Orlando and rented a car. The drive from the Orlando airport to Cape Canaveral was incredibly easy. We stayed at the Radisson, which was very nice and they had a lovely pool with a waterfall. Saturday morning we returned the car and took the Avis shuttle to the port. Both Avis and Radisson run shuttles. I also noticed a Budget car rental not much further down the road. And there was a Holiday Inn Express close by, too. I saw a Budget van, so I believe they run shuttles, but I don't know if the Holiday Inn does. But there are plenty of options if you want to go a day early and we enjoyed having the car to drive around Friday night and Saturday morning.
First of All
First of all, I have to say, WOW! The Carnival Pride is truly a beautiful ship! The artwork and detail on the ship are incredible. When you are sitting in a lounge or eating a meal, take a moment to look up at the ceiling - even there, the detail was not overlooked. We had a wonderful time on the ship, and at the ports we enjoyed beach time. There have been detailed descriptions of the ship and public areas posted, so that will not be the focus of this review.
My husband and I have been on eleven cruises and this was our sixth cruise on Carnival. We are in our mid-thirties and we were traveling with our 2½ year old son. The Carnival Pride is large enough to offer something for everyone, yet is laid out in such a way that you are not crowded and rarely have to wait in a line.
We decided to book a balcony cabin for the first time since we knew we might be spending a little more time in the room when our son was napping or after he went to bed at night. We were pleased with this decision. I saw posts from others contemplating this from a safety standpoint; we were very careful with him and it wasn't a problem. The door to the balcony opened out toward the balcony and was on a tight spring - my son couldn't open it. My husband and I enjoyed many hours on the balcony throughout the week.
We booked cabin 4223, on Main Deck, starboard side, aft. The cabin was very nicely appointed, roomy and functional. There was plenty of storage space in the closets (even the car seat fit) and under the bed (which was big enough for our large suitcase). The bathroom had plenty of shelves to store toiletries. Shower gel and shampoo were available in dispensers mounted in the shower.
There were two robes in the cabin, a hair dryer, and a mini-bar. Beer, wine, champagne, soda and snacks were available for purchase from the mini-bar; there was a little bit of spare room available to keep a couple of small items of our own chilled in there, too.
This was the first time in all of our cruises that we were disappointed with our cabin service. Our cabin steward, Lorraine, was very friendly and personable, but she was not very effective. When we arrived at our cabin, it hadn't been thoroughly cleaned from the previous occupant (and a day later, those things were still not attended to); we had to find her every morning to get our beach towels to go ashore or up to the pool; our shower gel dispenser emptied early in the week and it wasn't refilled, even after letting her know that it was empty. And our cabin was missing one adult life jacket the entire week, which was brought to her attention several times. My past experience with cabin stewards is that they practically anticipate your needs, but this time we had to make standard requests that we have not had to do previously and even after asking, sometimes the requests were ignored. Except for the cabin service, all other services we received on the Carnival Pride were great.
Our cabin was located right above the Normandie Dining Room, and the Mermaid Grill was five decks above us, so those were very convenient. But to get to the Fun Club (Camp Carnival) or to the Taj Mahal, we walked the length of the ship. We had main seating, dinner at 5:45 pm. (there is only one dining room with two seatings, a main and a late). When we were getting ready for dinner, I could hear music below us from the waiters practicing their song and dance. The reason I mention this is if you are someone who has late seating and may be taking a siesta around 5:00ish, you might not want to be located directly above the dining room. But that is the only time that I noticed any noise from below us. There was a little vibration noise during the night. I don't know if that was just in the aft cabins or in others as well.
We were seated at table 134 on the main floor of the Normandie Dining Room. Our table was just to the right after entering the dining room on Deck 2. We were seated at a table for four and there seemed to be a lot of variety of tables starting at tables for two and going up to large round ones (I think for 10 people). Also, we had some long rectangular tables behind us which I think were smaller tables combined for a couple of large groups. Our waiters were Phelius (Team Headwaiter) from St. Vincent and Nicolette (Team Waiter) from South Africa. They were wonderful and very good to our son. Arta, the Assistant Hostess (formerly Headwaiter position) was very personable and sincere in her requests to take care of anything necessary to improve the dining experience.
Food in the dining room was delicious, the best I have had on Carnival. In fact, I read an article about the senior chef, Sanjay Dhall, who has been designated to head the kitchen on all of Carnival's new launches. The soups were excellent, particularly the Crema de Funghi and the West Indian Pumpkin Soup. The lobster was the best I have had on any cruise ship. The filet mignon was served medium rare, as requested. We primarily selected seafood and beef dishes, and were not disappointed. For the kids, there was a choice of hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, hot dog, pizza, and the pasta dish - ordered in a smaller serving - is another option that our son enjoyed. And for dessert, don't miss the hot soufflés. There was a chocolate soufflé one night, and hazelnut another; they were delicious. Also, the tiramisu and crème brulée were good selections.
We enjoyed the dining and entertainment in the dining room so much that we ate dinner there every night. The Maitre d', Ken from Ireland, was the best I have ever encountered on any cruise ship. He sang a song almost every night. If you like Sinatra, you are in for a special treat. He sang "New York, New York," "Summer Wind," "My Way," and "Night and Day." One night he even sang "Danny Boy," a cappella, by request.
The formal nights were Sunday and Thursday. For kids old enough for Camp Carnival, there were special dinners for kids at the Mermaid Grill on both formal nights. On the first formal night there was a "Coke-tail" party as well.
The food was also delicious at the Mermaid Grill, and the selection was outstanding. At lunch, I really enjoyed the Taste of Nations at the Mermaid Grill. The four main stations had Rotisserie, Deli, Asian and the last rotated daily: Italian, Japanese, Caribbean, Mexican, American, French, and Indian. There was sushi at lunch at least four days, but unfortunately there was not a sushi bar before dinner, like on the Jubilee. There was a 24-hour pizzeria and a large salad bar. The deli is open from 12:00 noon to 11:00 pm. Just outside, toward the pool, was where they had hamburgers and hot dogs. I never ate dinner in the Mermaid Grill, but I walked through one evening and it looked like they had a nice selection.
We ate most breakfasts at the Mermaid Grill, although we did go to the dining room two mornings for breakfast. Neither menu changed from day to day. Eggs Benedict is only available in the dining room, so I usually like to make it there at least once. The Mermaid Grill had the standard fare: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns, cereal, flaky pastries, and omelets made to order.
We thought the entertainment was top notch. There was truly something for everyone. The Carnival Pride Dancers, featuring Lorena Peril and Marvin Lewis, were very good. Additionally, there was a variety of live music throughout the ship, even in the casino. Nicole Lizee played beautiful piano music in the Atrium and the Piazza Café. Sometimes Joe played guitar in the Atrium. In addition, there was a Classical Trio in the Florentine Lounge, and a Jazz Trio that played in the Raphael Lounge. There were programmable pianos playing in lounges even when a live person wasn't there to perform. If you are on the ship within the next few months don't miss Unity in the Butterflies Lounge; our only opportunity to see them was on the last night, and they were great. They are on the ship until June and then off to Brazil for two years. Cam Brown played tunes from a revolving piano in the Ivory Piano Bar where it was fun to listen to or sing along.
The décor in the Starry Night Lounge was bold and striking. A talented band called Music Society played a variety of dance music. I did notice some of the entertainers, particularly Nicole and Cam, getting off the ship and they appeared to be heading to the airport. So, I don't know how often the musicians are rotated off.
Ports of Call, Eastern Itinerary
This is a new Carnival stop, but not a new island. It used to be Premier Cruises' Private Island. It can be booked by others from Nassau as a tour to the Blue Lagoon and for excursions to Stingray City or Dolphin Encounters. So, in a sense it is really only a "semi-private" island. However, on the days the Carnival Pride is there (every other Sunday), there are only passengers from this ship on the island. If you are looking for a relaxing time to lie on the sand, in a hammock, or swim, this might be for you. It's not a place to sightsee or shop. Also, if you have kids who like to play in the sand, there is a special play area with shovels, buckets, and sandcastle molds. The Camp Carnival counselors were there for those who wanted to sign in the kids for a short while.
We were scheduled to arrive and dock in Nassau at 7:30am and had to be back on the ship by 3:00. The last tender from Salt Cay was scheduled to depart 2:00pm; a little longer stay in port would be nice. It was about a 45-minute tender ride to the island, and that's the bad news. But the good news is that it was a very pretty ride with a good view of Atlantis en route to Salt Cay. Drinks were for sale on the ferry and they were put on our "sail and sign" cards. The downstairs was under cover and an open area was available upstairs to be in the sun.
We had lunch at the Pavilion on the island before catching the ferry back to Nassau. Carnival provided hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, rice, a variety of cold salads, french fries, cookies, and brownies. Iced tea and fruit punch were no charge and all other drinks could be put on the "sail and sign" card. Carnival said that it was a cashless island, but apparently there were miscellaneous purchases that did require cash or credit card.
There were non-motorized water sport rentals (kayaks, paddle boats, inflatable tubes . . . ) which could be booked at the Shore Excursion Desk aboard ahead of time. And there were excursions to purchase for the island, such as Stingray City and Dolphin Encounter. We were given a map with a key to show us where everything on the island was located. Note: from April until November, Carnival Pride will stop at Half Moon Cay instead of Salt Cay on the Eastern Itinerary.
We wanted to spend the morning at a beach. We ended up at Morningstar Beach which is not far from port, about a ten-minute taxi ride, on the southern shore of St. Thomas. The taxi let us off at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort. It was a very scenic beach with soft white sand and a little bit of surf. There were rentals available, a beachside restaurant, and bathroom facilities.
Havensight Mall is conveniently located at the port if you would like to shop, or you can take a taxi into Charlotte Amalie. Liquor prices typically are better than in the States. St. Thomas has been known to be the shopping port, although I understand that St. Maarten is now giving it some competition. On the ship they had information on what items were now a better buy in St. Maarten. I did not plan to do any shopping - in fact, I stopped at Havensight Mall to buy boxes of rum balls to take home for gifts, only to find that they were slightly more expensive than in the ship's gift shop (and they were the same brand).
This was our first trip to St. Maarten since the new pier had been completed; it was very impressive. There were four ships docked on the day we visited. At the start of the pier was a small, open air Fat Tuesdays and a store selling liquor, snacks, souvenirs, etc. The pier was dedicated one year earlier, in January 2001. I wouldn't be surprised if more businesses open in this area in the near future. Shopping in Philipsburg was nearby, via taxi or water taxi.
We took a taxi to Dawn Beach, which was a lovely, white sand beach with beautiful turquoise blue water. It was a sunny day, which always makes the water even more enticing. There were people snorkeling at the coral reef, just off the shoreline. Many people were just playing and swimming in the wonderful cool (but not cold) water; the mild waves were refreshing. There were chairs and umbrellas to rent, and bathroom facilities were available. There was a restaurant and bar right on the beach offering Carib beer for 75 cents each.
'Fun Ship' Activities
During the day there were activities galore, especially on the days at sea. There was bingo and pool games, and bingo and exercise classes, and did I mention bingo? There was even a bingo to give away a free cruise. There were art auctions, dance classes, a scavenger hunt, a galley tour, and ice carving. Passengers could participate in trivia contests, a newlywed game, and even a survivor contest - the only one to date where the contestants don't lose weight over seven days.
On deck, there were plenty of lounge chairs available. You needed to bring your beach towel from your cabin or sign for one on deck using your "sail and sign" card. There was no charge as long as you returned the towel. There were two main pools on the Lido Deck, Apollo and Venus, each with a hot tub. On the Lido Deck aft was the Poseidon Pool and hot tub, which was for adults only. Up two decks on the Sports Deck was the kids' pool and the entrance to the water slide. The kids' pool was about eight feet in diameter and contained about eight inches of water. It was the perfect place for the toddlers, except for the astonishing number of paint chips floating in the water and lying on the bottom of the pool. The water slide was open from 10am to 5pm, weather permitting. A couple of days it was not open even though the weather seemed to be fine and the waters were calm, but it was windy. I saw mixed results on the slide. Some people seemed to go very fast, yet others were almost coming to a stop at the turns.
A comprehensive fitness center was located on the forward section of Decks 9 and 10. A variety of new machines and free weights were available, including elliptical steppers, treadmills, and recumbent bikes. There was another hot tub in the fitness center. Located in the locker rooms were steam and sauna rooms and the nicest showers that I have ever used. There were multiple shower heads mounted on the walls and the ceiling, spraying water all over the body. For those with many passengers sharing a cabin, having the option of showering in the fitness center could be convenient and provide more flexibility.
After the Cruise
We had a fabulous vacation. I highly recommend this ship for anyone. There truly is something for one and all. And I think it's a wonderful family trip as well. We got to spend time together and have great fun playing with our son this week. And yet we got a couple of moments to ourselves too while he had fun playing with the other kids.
We were not happy (pardon the pun) with the arrangements we had made to return to the Orlando airport. We booked a Happy Limo. We thought this would be less hassle than renting a car for the return, especially with a 2-year-old. And we didn't want to be herded into a bus, and sit and wait for it to fill up, or have a problem with not being able to strap our car seat into the bus. We did not have a good experience with Happy Limo. They were 30 minutes late and unreachable by phone, which left us wondering if they were coming at all.
But . . . my husband and I spent the day after our return trying to figure out when and where we can go next!!
PHOTOS courtesy of Andy Newman & Carnival Cruise Lines.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Carnival Pride, click HERE.
Kim Cornelius lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, John, and their son, Luke. They have cruised on Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean in the Caribbean and explored the Mediterranean on Orient Line's Marco Polo. Kim may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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