Pros: Great ship, ports of call and group perks.
Cons: Ship's interior design (art work) & lack of activities on sea days.
Let me begin by saying we had a very enjoyable cruise, and the few negatives I list in this review should not deter you from going, as they may or may not be an issue for you. This was my second cruise aboard the Carnival Pride. The first time was back in 2004; just me and my husband. This time around, we went with a group of 67 volleyball players all good friends and I was the group leader! Although I like to try new things, as the groups leader, I wanted to insure that fun would be had by all and most importantly, no surprises. Thats why we suggested to the group that we go to Mexico aboard the Pride. Everyone had a great time, and I am certain no one would hesitate to go on another Carnival cruise in the future. Carnival isnt for everyone, but when it comes to groups, they beat the other mass marketed cruise lines by a huge margin in every aspect: pricing, group amenities and onboard support.
I have never been a big fan of Carnival. I am more partial to Royal Caribbeans Voyager class ships for family cruise vacations and Celebrity when its just the two of us. But for an affordable group vacation, Carnival outshines all the others. From start to finish, they provided great service and communication in the planning stage, good support throughout our booking and made good on all their promises once we got on the ship. We had an online travel agent handle the particulars of our booking. This was our third volleyball group cruise our first aboard the Norway in 1994, the second one in 2003 aboard the Navigator of the Seas, and the third one aboard the Pride. All were lots of fun, but the one with the least amount of hassles, the most bang for the buck, the best group amenities and by far, the best support both off and on the ship was this one aboard the Carnival Pride!
As we reside in California, we drove to the pier. Check in began around 9am aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach. We parked our vehicles, gave our luggage to the porters and walked over to the check-in counter at the Queen Mary. They processed our cruise documentation, and within minutes we were out the door with our ships ID card. We walked around the Queen Mary ($10 for Carnival Passengers) and surrounding area until 11:30; then it was time to line up for the cruise by the terminal. We waited in line for about 45 minutes before we were given the okay to board the ship. Once on the ship, we proceeded to our stateroom, dropped off our carry-on and went to lunch.
We booked a category 8A balcony stateroom guarantee and received a category 8D balcony cabin on Empress Deck. Our cabin consisted of two twin beds that were pushed together for us, lots of storage space with two hanger closets, cabinets, shelving and even a small refrigerator with mini bar items (which you had to pay for). You can ask your room steward to remove its contents, like we did.
All rooms aboard the Pride have new bedding duvets, crisp white sheets and fluffy pillows. A definite cut above the other cruise lines to say the least! The beds were very comfortable by far the best of any cruise line I have experienced. To get an idea of what you will experience, check out this link:
Bathrooms now come with Dove products body wash and shampoo. Although I tend to buy salon shampoos, Doves quality comes in a close second, and had I known, I probably would not have brought my own shampoo. There was a little basket of sample products in the bathroom which was also a very nice touch. Suffice it to say, between the new bedding and the improved quality in their toiletries, Carnival gets high marks in my book for cabin amenities, not to mention the generous cabin size. My only disappointment with the room was the size of our balcony. It appeared to be much smaller than the one we enjoyed last year aboard the Mariner of the Seas (we had a low end balcony cabin then also). The size of our cabin was about the same, but the balcony was a little deeper.
There was a hair dryer in the cabin attached to a drawer in the vanity, and I found it very annoying to have to hold down the "on" button when in use. I would recommend you bring your own, but I suppose if you didn't have much hair to dry, the one in the room would probably be okay as well.
Our stateroom and bathroom were cleaned and picked up twice a day. The stateroom attendants have specific hours they are available, so it is important to contact your room steward with any special requests when he/she is available. It will do no good to request extra towels at 1pm, as he is available only from 7am -10am and 5pm-10pm!
There has been a lot written about the artwork on the Pride. Done up in dark mahogany and Renaissance art reproductions, the good stuff is hidden away in the stairwells a multimillion dollar glass collection thats definitely worth the climb but will be unappreciated by most! Too bad the real artwork is not showcased well. The rest of the art is nothing more than poster and wall paper type prints glued to the walls. In keeping with Carnivals tradition, the large posters depicting Renaissance nudes have thankfully replaced Las Vegas neon. I wont go so far as to call it tacky, as a lot of people in my group were genuinely impressed. But its not my cup of tea I prefer real works of art by unknown artists then poor reproductions of the Masters. For whatever reason, it works on the Pride. You'll get used to it fast.
Public Areas of the Ship
The ship is very well laid out, and easy to get to from one end to the other. I had no trouble finding staterooms, restaurants, lounges and clean bathrooms. The Taj Mahal theater is on one end of the ship and the restaurant is on the other. In the middle, you had lounges an atrium with glass elevators and the casino. To get a good idea of what the ship looks like, please visit this link for a virtual tour:
Entertainment There were several lounges with music and singers, but sadly, they were rather poor. There was a nightly headliner show; sometimes it was a variety show, a comedy act, or a Las Vegas style revue. The performances were well attended, but I personally didn't care for the show girls and their dancing. Compared to performances you see in Tahoe or Las Vegas, the ship's performers were not all that good. But most folks, I'm sure, found them to be entertaining.
My biggest complaint last time is the same this time: there seems to be a lack of things to do during the days at sea. There are three full days at sea, which can prove to people looking to relax by the pool, a very positive thing. Because I was with a large group, we made our own fun. But just glancing through the daily list of activities, one doesnt see much to do. There are things like bingo, the casino, the spa, art auctions and shore talks that the Cruise Director encourages you to attend, but short of these activities, there was little else to do. Please don't misunderstand me; theres nothing wrong with the activities that were offered. It's just that Bingo and the other revenue generating activities are not my cup of tea. On past cruises, I have gone to the spa, participated in Bingo and attended the shore talks, so I knew what to expect. If this is your first cruise, you may wish to partake in all of this; I did once. But once was enough!
Carnival is much more casual than Royal Caribbean and the other mass marketed cruise lines and if you ask, it appears they want to keep it that way. Though everyone dresses up for the two formal nights, people tend to dress down for dinner the rest of the time. Jeans were fine in the formal dining room on all non-formal evenings. I didn't see any wierd outfits or people in shorts. All the kids I saw were dressed appropriately as well.
I was very pleasantly surprised how tasty everything was at formal dinner the first time I sailed on the Pride and with the exception of Davids (the $30pp fine dining establishment on the ship), it was just as good, if not better this time around. Food presentation and variety was excellent. Not four star cuisine, mind you, but much better than anything we have had recently had on other cruise lines. We ate dinner in the formal dining room every night (except one); breakfast and lunch up at the Mermaid's Buffet & Grill. The buffet was well stocked with lots of variety, including fresh pizza, sandwiches made to order, made to order burgers and fries, a carving station, Asian entrees including sushi at lunch time, an impressive salad bar and a desert bar. You name it, the buffet had it.
My husband and I went to Davids Supper Club with another couple; I was very disappointed and will probably not go again. This was the third time I checked out an alternative restaurant on a cruise (on three different cruise lines), and all three times now, I wasnt impressed. Davids wasnt terrible its just the service was slow (on purpose) and the food not much better than what we had in the formal dining room. Our waiter at Davids wasnt polite so that added to the frustration. I doubt youll find me going to another one of these restaurants. With that said, several people we spoke with did have a positive experience. I heard good comments about the food and service, so maybe we went on an off night.
Ports of Call
We called on Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. In Puerto Vallarta, we made arrangements via the Internet to go snorkeling with a Party Boat that made stops at two different beaches. The final stop included a hike or horse back ride up to a beautiful water fall. We paid $30pp for this all day shore excursion - the same trip booked on the ship would have been $70pp. You can get more information here:
In Mazatlan, we walked over to the stone island water taxi, which cost us $1 round trip to Stone Island. Most people come here to go horseback riding, but we came for the beautiful beach. There are several restaurants that serve the famous giant Stone Island shrimp right on the beach - by far the best I have ever had! Check out Letys on the beach.
In Cabo San Lucas, we spent the day on the beach at Mango's, next to the "Office". As the "Office" does not have lounge chairs, we opted to spend the afternoon at Mango's.
Short of buying one bottle of alcohol on the ship, we didn't do go shopping at the ports of call.
Short of my complaints centering on daytime activities (the lack thereof) and the quality of some of the nighttime shows, I really can't say anything bad about our cruise. The Pride is a very clean ship. The ship's public bathrooms were always clean; the carpets and floors were constantly being cleaned. I was very impressed with the service we received from the crew. If you cruise often, like we do, you will miss some past guest perks that other cruise lines extend to their repeat customers. Unlike Princess, Celebrity or Royal Caribbean, Carnival does very little short of a free party and a quarterly magazine. But that's a cruise line policy, not a ship issue.
I'll be the first to say, I used to avoid Carnival like the plague. Unlike other cruise lines who have cut the quality in their product, Carnival actually has taken steps to improve theirs. Better ships, better accommodations, better food are attracting lots of new passengers who in the past have avoided Carnival. I would still recommend you avoid Carnival's older ships, but ships like the Pride compare favorably to other similar sized ships in competing cruise line's fleets.
So here are some tips:
1. Book Early to get the best rates. Last minute discounted rates are harder to find.
2. Check-in Early at the Queen Mary.
3. Bring cool weather clothing for the first and last days at sea.
4. Research the Ports of Call on web.
5. Pack some flavored Rum or Vodka to mix with free Punch and Lemonade on ship - yum! Buy one drink in a souvenir glass and use for in-room mixed drinks.
6. Have a great time!