All week on the Carnival Pride, I
never saw a pharmacy aisle, a garden center, or a McDonaldís. I
assumed I was in the right place, because so many critics compare
Carnival to Wal-Mart. Oops. Wrong. This ship had way too much great
food and entertainment, wild dťcor and Fun Ship ambience to get
confused with a Wal-Mart or even a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
Carnival has created another
supercenter of fun, though, with the Pride. You will enjoy your week
on the ship and at the ports. Carnival delivered on the cruise
experience and ports as promised, with the bonus of perfect, sunny
weather. The ship was full. The food was plenteous. The nightlife
was at full blast. None of the tenders at Belize sunk. The only
glitches I saw were some overtaxed ice machines and soft ice-cream
machines, and several people who couldnít get back to the ship on
time at both ports in Mexico. We very nicely waited, to the
irritation of some.
Overall, the Pride is wonderful,
beautiful ship. In fact, you will see the word beautiful in here
many times. My criticisms, and I dare say most of the criticisms on
this board, are made within a context of an overall good experience.
I have been fortunate to travel on 32 cruises since 1980, with about
15 or 16 on Carnival, a couple on Royal Caribbean, three or four on
Princess, three or four on NCL, two short ones on Disney and two on
As nice as the Pride is, itís a
rather odd duck, a kind of Holland America reinterpretation of the
Carnival Fun Ship theme. On Holland America, you have real art. On
the Pride, you have art representations applied all over he ship. On
Holland America, you have dark bars. On the Pride, many areas are
dark. Unlike Holland America, the Prideís dťcor is baroque in its
overly decorated endlessness. Not a floor, ceiling, wall, support
beam, elevator, chair or stairwell is left untouched by some sort of
theme. It seems more theatrical than actual. Itís also
fascinating, so this is not really a negative.
Most of the public rooms, the ones
that arenít dark, are truly beautiful in my opinion. Check out the
mosaics in the Sunset Garden area and in the foyers of the Taj Mahal.
Much of the Renaissance "artwork" features nudity like we
have all seen before in classic paintings. The topless-mermaid
sculptures were up on Lido Deck were anatomically correct. Some
people think this is Carnivalís attempt to tone things down, but I
donít think so. Itís just "classier" than neon.
To me, Carnival hasnít
"improved" over the years in order to supposedly rectify
its party image; it has simply evolved along with the rest of the
industry. One issue does stand out, however. In the late 1980s and
early í90s, Carnival was getting known as "Fort Lauderdale at
sea" during spring break time. CCL finally regulated that by
requiring passengers under 21 be accompanied by at least one parent,
grandparent or guardian at least 25 years old in the same cabin.
Carnival needed this step. My understanding is that too many travel
agents were booking cabins and cabins of unsupervised teens.
Carnivalís food has always ranged
from good to excellent and back again, although the portions at
dinner are smaller these days. The nightlife is as lively as ever,
and the ships all have their Fun Ship themes. The party atmosphere
is as strong as ever, although some things like the beer-bong
contest on the pool deck and the Male Nightgown Contest in the main
show lounge have disappeared. I guess those events werenít
politically correct, although bolting sculptures of topless mermaids
to the ceiling on Lido Deck apparently is OK. (Whatever.) The cruise
director is quick to warn the audience if something coming up
"is a little bit spicy" or "PG-13." R-rated
material is saved for midnight shows only. In contrast, I well
remember R-rated shows any time of the day or evening. A friend made
a video of a male nightgown contest from about 1986, which was quite
Ďspicyí and hilarious. Itís a historic document now.
Something worth mentioning is that
Carnival offers a nice perk to shareholders: a $100 onboard credit.
After making final payment, I mailed my documentation to Carnival in
Miami and hoped for the best. Carnival did not confirm my request,
nor did I expect them to ó theyíre too cheap. When my cruise
ticket arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find a $100 credit
listed. On the second night of the cruise, the purserís office
left a memo in my tree-mail container outside my cabin (a little
Survivor lingo) confirming the $100 credit. Thank you, Carnival! At
least this paid for the gratuities, one shore excursion and one or
On the Pride, Carnival posts the
suggested weekly gratuities of $68.25 to your account. I have no
problem with this, and itís probably easier for the crew not
having to handle cash at the end of the week. Apparently, too many
passengers were stiffing the staff. This is understandable on
Carnival, in that you do get some Wal-Mart types (that word again)
attracted by the great value of a Carnival cruise who are too cheap,
broke, stupid or ignorant to tip. Also, because passengers have more
dining options these days, some guests might decide they ate too few
meals in the dining room to justify tips. To me, the crew was as
reasonably happy and friendly as ever. Iím sure the crew knows
that passengers can go to the purserís office and have the
automatic tip lowered or removed. Or increased.
The cruise started easily. I drove
from home to the Port Canaveral terminal baggage drop-off zone in
about an hour, found a parking space, paid $56 and walked back to
the terminal. I was in line from about 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., which to
me was longer than usual. The place was mobbed, but the confusion
was organized and the lines moved along. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, FILL
IN YOUR DOCUMENTS AHEAD OF TIME. Still, I walked into my cabin just
two hours after leaving home. That is hard to beat!
I purchased a 1A category cabin
(guaranteed upper and lower) with likelihood of an upgrade. This
means your luggage tags arrive TBA and you get your cabin number
from a porter when you drop off your luggage. This ship has only
five 1A cabins, so an upgrade of some sort is assured. Carnival
upgraded my cabin four notches to 4D, which was a nice inside cabin,
7339, on Veranda deck. This was two decks below the Lido Deck
eateries and the aft pool. It was a good spot. In fact, itís a
good neighborhood, with lots of balcony cabins and suites nearby.
Two women said they paid for a guaranteed category 8A, which is your
standard balcony cabin. They, too, arrived with TBA tags and found
themselves upgraded 10 notches to a category 11, a suite. My
congratulations! The cabins all have safes that can be activated
with a credit card or your Sail & Sign card, which also has a
The ship left about 4:20 p.m., just
about as advertised. All was well until 8:15 p.m. at my first
dinner, which turned out to be the lowest point of the week. If
youíre in a hurry, you may skip the next many paragraphs. Iím
going to spend way too much time discussing the Normandie dining
I had requested a large table on
first sitting and was given a table for two on second sitting.
Second sitting was OK, but a table for two is hardly a fun way to
meet people when youíre traveling alone. Even worse, the other
person never showed. So, I began the cruise in this beautiful room
getting acquainted with no one. Meanwhile, I saw tables for six and
eight with some empty chairs. If you want a table for two with a
good view of the main floor below, request No. 397. Itís right
along the railing.
After dinner, an assistant maitre
dí consulted the computer and couldnít find a table for six or
eight with an official opening. But, a few hours later someone left
more tree-mail at my cabin with a reassignment to a booth for four
downstairs near the main floor off to the side. Luckily, I met three
wonderful women who happily accommodated a fourth companion. All was
well, more or less. This was the first time I have ever asked for
The Normandie is a throwback to the
older days when the smaller ships had only one dining room. This is
not all bad. For example, this allows for uninterrupted passenger
flow on certain decks. Then ships got bigger, and designers put in
two dining rooms. Some new ships still have two dining rooms, or
more. But now, on the Carnival Pride, Spirit and Legend, and the
newer Royal Caribbean ships, we are back to one great big humongous
The Normandie features a central
open area under a decorated ceiling, with many semi-private sections
along the sides and upstairs. This place must hold at least 1,000
people. It is meant to make people feel they are in a more intimate
(or less humongous) setting, and to give people more choice of
eating by themselves or with others. Carnival says this is in
response to comments by people who wanted more seating for two.
Well, they got their tables for two. There also are booths for four
and the traditional larger tables for six or eight in the central
open area. Some areas off to the side had long tables or eight, 10
or 12, which I assume is preferred by larger groups of folks
All of which sounds great, but two
issues to consider: First, you may not get the table you want.
Carnival explicitly says that it wonít guarantee your choice of
table or sitting. If you want a large table and donít get one, you
may be out of luck. In contrast, tables for two abounded.
Second, Carnivalís traditional
dining-room shows donít work well in this space because many
people canít see whatís going on. The dining-team members are
mostly confined to central area. A few members of the wait staff
venture into the hinterlands as token representatives of the show.
On a couple of evenings, the dining staff donned crazy wigs, and
some danced on the serving side tables on the main floor. This was
hilarious and fun, but I had to walk away from my booth to see it.
Other people were even further away from the action and they
didnít see anything.
On the Pride, this design is even
more disadvantageous because the maitre dí likes to sing Frank
Sinatra songs and work the room like it is a big lounge. The maitre
dí stopped by our booth one night, just off the main floor, and he
told us he would prefer to walk and sing throughout the room, but
that the overhang from the second level cuts off his microphone.
As you can tell, I prefer the more
open, communal dining areas, especially when traveling by myself. I
went to several open-sitting breakfasts and sat at the large tables,
and I definitely enjoyed the dining room more out in the main area.
Besides, the dining room at breakfast almost seemed quicker than the
Lido Deck buffets. Of course, the dining-room breakfast is served
only from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.
Finally, hereís a suggestion. The
Pride takes "dining room reservation inquiries" in the
Captainís Club (next to the dining room) from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
on the afternoon you arrive. If this issue is important to you, you
can check your seating and probably get a change right then. And
remember, as Carnival states in your ticket documents, "To be
fair to all of our guests, your Maitre Dí does not encourage and
will not accept gratuities to ensure specific dining reservations or
arrangements." Good luck!
As for the dining-room food and
service, I had an excellent, excellent prime rib one night, and two
excellent lobster tails on another night. The seafood dishes were
uniformly good, although some of the desserts were bland. The best
dessert I had all week was up on the Lido Deck, a piece of
incredibly good chocolate cake. Although on the last night, when I
had some chewy chateaubriand for the entree, I had two wonderful
desserts: a chocolate fudge cake and a cappuccino ice-cream pie.
Yum. The service was fun and efficient, the dťcor elegant (more
Holland America style) with none of the dancing tivoli lights that
enliven the dining room shows on other Carnival ships ó which I
Eight decks above the Normandie on
the Lido Deck is the topless Mermaidís Grille, certainly one of
the most beautiful informal buffet areas anywhere. The dťcor and
atmosphere are impressive, and the food was generally good. As in
the Normandie, Carnival has segmented this extended space between
the center pool area and the aft pool area into different serving
lines and small-scale sitting areas. It is confusing ó another
quibble. Consider this: Early in the cruise, walk around the whole
area and get an idea of which serving line serves what. Try to
memorize that. You have four main lines (deli, rotisserie, Asian,
Taste of Nations), plus the grill for hot dogs and hamburgers
outside by the center pool, plus the pizza station toward the back
and the free ice-cream machines even farther back by the aft pool.
Salad bar? Fresh fruit? On the
Pride, it took me three days to stumble across the fresh fruit and
salad stuff. Duh. The fruits and salads are split into three
smallish serving lines in alcove-type spaces. You really have to
look for them at first, and they donít serve many people at once.
Hint: Find the pizza station. The fruit and salad lines are
adjacent. I donít know why things have to be so difficult. I hope
it was just me. (Carnivalís Fantasy-class ships feature a fruit
and salad bar station in the middle of the Lido Deck buffet area.
Theyíre big, theyíre round, theyíre obvious, and itís easy
for many people to partake at once.)
If you like eating with views of
the sea, this is the place to do it. Here, you have a choice of many
tables for two, booths for four and gigantic tables for groups. The
floor-to-ceiling windows are great, much better than the windows in
the infamous Normandie dining room. Once you find your food, itís
a wonderful place to meet friends or family, to sit and enjoy the
passing parade of people, look at the port or watch the sea and
clouds go by. The serving lines have trays, which other Carnival
buffets apparently do not have according to other reviews.
Another stupid-design issue. The
jogging track is confined to a rather small spot on Deck 11. The
Fantasy class and Destiny class ships have much longer jogging
tracks. Few people used the jogging track for walking or running.
Itís too short and too boring. An alternative, especially for you
exercise walkers, is Deck 10. This outside deck winds entirely
around and above the Deck 9 pool area. You have plenty to see along
this long route, and the walkway is surprisingly spacious as it goes
past the deck furniture. The only close-in spot is aft where the
water slide intrudes into the area where you are walking. You might
get splashed a little. Meanwhile, serious runners should use the
treadmills in the gym.
The pool area was great, with two
separate pools divided by a bar serving area. Being able to see the
deck games is a problem on all Carnival ships, but they seem to have
fewer deck games these days so maybe it doesnít matter. Music
plays in the center pools, but the aft pool is quieter.
Letís go back downstairs. The
grand atrium is another design disappointment. Itís beautiful, but
itís the least grand of any shipboard atria I have seen. The grand
Renaissance artwork that goes up for several stories is all but
impossible to see because of the narrowness of the soaring atrium.
You canít really step back and view it, as the rendering in the
Carnival brochure would have you believe. The only way is to get in
a glass elevator and go up and down so it unrolls before your eyes.
This is kind of fun, actually. But the Destiny-class atrium is far
more impressive. Even the Fantasy-class atrium is more impressive.
If this is supposed to be a grand focal point of the interior
design, I think it fails. Even the staircases for those formal-night
photo ops are kind of dinky. Nevertheless, the Renaissance lobby on
the ground floor was a popular place for people to gather before
dinner. On formal night, with everyone dressed up, that place really
was splendid. No one is staring skyward anyway.
How about the disco, known as
Beauties Dance Club? Again, this is odd. It is two decks deep. A bar
and sitting area are upstairs, but the dance floor is reached by
going down some stairs, where there is more bar service and seating.
You would think the cruise line would be concerned about sloshed
people injuring themselves going up and down the stairs as part of
the normal flow through the place. No topless mermaids here, but
lots of topless sculpted torsos instead. Those apparently are the
"beauties." Anyway, the sound system is great and the
video wall is great. Itís a nice dance club, just a little odd.
Maybe thatís the point ó to experience something that is a
The main walkway winds its way
through the lobby, the casino and the various public areas on
Promenade deck 2. Itís a great trek. Nonplayers can walk through
the din of the casino without bothering anyone who is playing. Of
course, the walkway is designed to lure you in, which is fine, but
it also allows you literally to walk through the middle of the
amusements without being a part of the action. An inviting
bar/sitting area in the casino overlooks the action.
Carnivalís piano bars are
entertaining, be they rock and roll type piano bars or quieter ones.
Carnival almost always has excellent musicians/singers who keep the
place happy and hopping. On the Pride, in the Ivory Piano Bar,
"Jim" was vulgar and sang loudly into his mike. It got to
be too much on the second or third night after some people around
the bar were joking and conversing with him by yelling at him over
the loudness of his over-miked voice. Itís too bad, because under
all that cacophony, he was a good singer and pianist. Overall, the
piano bar didnít look as busy as other Carnival piano bars I have
visited. If Carnival evaluates entertainers by how well the bar
does, this guy got maybe a C.
A word about the other pianist on
board, cocktail music performer "JP." This is the type of
performer who gets little attention because he doesnít sing or
dance or tell randy jokes into a booming microphone. He just plays
here and there throughout the week: at high tea in the Florentine
Lounge or before dinner in the Renaissance atrium and the Piazza Cafť,
providing background music for everyoneís conversations. He has a
piano performance degree from the University of South Carolina. He
is an excellent pianist and it was nice to make his acquaintance.
As for the main production shows,
Wonderful World on Monday and Vroom! on Thursday, do not miss them.
Carnival pulls out all the stops for these two Las Vegas shows. They
feature the same medley-song anthologies almost all cruise-ship
shows have, but they were so sophisticated and well-written and
choreographed I almost forgot that I was hearing familiar things.
These shows were better even than in recent years on other Carnival
ships. Both shows lasted about an hour each with no interruptions.
They were quite intense and well-attended. The two lead singers
werenít outstanding but very adequate. The Taj Mahal show lounge
is comfortable and spacious, more so than on some other ships, as
well as being beautiful. As with other Carnival show lounges, you
sometimes have to jockey for position to get a perfectly clear view.
Oh, yes, the ship did go to four
The Pride docks at the so-called abandoned Navy pier, which is
another quibble. At all the other cruise-ship piers in Key West, you
can walk off the ship and into town. At the Navy pier, you canít
walk into town unless you can walk across water. So, you have to
take shuttles through the base. And you have to get the shuttle to
come back. Because of security, you canít walk in or out, and it
would be 2-3 mile hike to do so (just to go a quarter mile as the
seagull flies into the heart of downtown Key West.) Anyway, Key West
is fun and historic. Take the either the Trolley tour or the Conch
Train tour to get oriented. I found the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum a
fascinating look at Spanish history and a unique opportunity to see
real Spanish gold and silver and emeralds. This museum ($7.50) is
well located for cruise-ship passengers. Itís a good complement to
seeing El Morro Castle in San Juan. The exhibits provide insight
into how Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia and the Caribbean were so
important to the Spanish in the 1500s and 1600s, when Spain was a
major world power.
The Pride anchors about four miles offshore, requiring a 15-minute
tender ride into town. The people in Belize provide the tenders,
which seemed to be adequate and speedy, but they do have to cover a
fairly long distance coming and going. I wouldnít want one of
these things to break down out there. Carnival offers quite a few
excursions here, which recently have been posted on the Carnival Web
site. I thought Belize City was bustling with people and activity,
although some found it poor. Well, itís third world, is what it
is. Itís partly poor and itís partly just undeveloped and itís
not the United States. And itís not even Mexico!
I donít strongly recommend the
Baboon Sanctuary and Belize City Tour, but let me describe it
anyway. The trip was rather interesting in that we (all 22 of us)
had an unexpectedly thorough look at the city and countryside in a
decent air-conditioned motorcoach with a guide. We saw some of
downtown, then drove on the paved main highway to the north and then
down a rough country road at 25 to 35 mph for about 35 minutes to
get to the sanctuary. We finally arrived and visited a small museum
that schoolchildren were also visiting. The sanctuary manager, a
soft-spoken, older Belize man who was very articulate but needed
lots of dental work, took us into the nearby woods. From a long ways
off, we could hear the howling of the baboons, which are known in
the United States as howler monkeys. The "sanctuary" is
not an enclosed area, but rather some forest and river acreage the
landowners have preserved. We didnít see that many monkeys, but
finally a couple of them climbed down the trees to get our guideís
handout of fruit. If you expect to see lots of howler monkeys coming
up and being friendly, youíll be disappointed. This is their
actual habitat, not a zoo. Our guide also stopped to point out and
discuss many native plants that provide folk cures for ailments
ranging from depression to diabetes. I think we spent as much time
on the plants as the monkeys. After a pleasant, 45-minute walk, we
were back at the museum ready to leave.
Important note: The only bathroom
at the sanctuary is an outhouse with four potties. This is the only
facility available on this excursion, apparently. Hold your nose and
We boarded the bus for another
grueling, bumpy ride over that interminable dirt road. Finally, we
arrived back in the city, and we had a surprisingly long tour
through all the areas: rich, poor, middle-class, and downtown yet
again. It was enjoyable, but most people were ready for the bathroom
and something to eat. They provided bottled water, but no lunch was
advertised or provided. It should have been, because you had to eat
breakfast before the 10 a.m. departure from the ship, but the tour
took until about 2:50 p.m. to get back the tender area. I finally
got some lunch on Lido Deck by about 3:15 just before the hot line
closed. It just seemed like a banana or some chips or a small
sandwich should have been included. I enjoyed the grand tour we had
of city and country, but it did get a little too rough and little
This is your spot to snorkel, shop and take photos of many other
cruise ships. I would have taken the Fiesta Party Cruise but it left
at 8 a.m. Yes, 8 a.m.! I recommend Fat Tuesdayís by the pier for
ice-cold adult beverages. A mall of shops is available on the pier,
and an outdoor bazaar of shops is next to the pier. This place grows
to be more like St. Thomas at every visit. All Cozumel needs now is
a fake mountain with a tramway. And more shops at the top, of
Wow. Interesting. Merida is the real Mexico and Progreso, the port
city, is an up-and-coming Cozumel. Here you have the longest pier
you are likely to see. Various estimates had it at four, five and
six miles long. Letís just say the ship docks way, way, way out on
the water. Very unusual. The cruise-ship section is new, having been
dedicated in June 2000. The Mexicans are building a shopping area
out by the ship for last-minute souvenirs. Only one shop was open
for business at the first of May 2002, but more are coming. For
those not on tours, a free shuttle takes you into town if you want
to visit Progreso and the beach. Many people found Progresoís
beach quite a nice spot, and itís adjacent to the long, seagoing
causeway/bridge. Another visit to both cities would be nice. As
others have written, public transportation to Merida is available.
The Merida City Overview and
shopping tour was easy and fun. It was interesting to see the
traditional, square Spanish "plaza major" and learn some
Mayan history from our guide. Merida is the capital of Yucatan
state, and the city was quite large and bustling. If you take this,
you will have a little over an hour for some shopping. Lunch is not
provided, but youíll find eateries around the picturesque plaza
ó Internet cafes, too. This is the real Mexico that you donít
necessarily see in Cancun or Cozumel. But folks speak English. They
arenít totally ignorant of the tourists.
You donít see much of Progreso on
this tour. As we returned, our bus proceeded straight through town
to the bridge at the beautiful shoreline. We passed over the beach
and rolled out to sea on the causeway. Our home away from home
waited on the horizon to take us home.
Here again, some folks were late
coming back. I heard one story later that we had to leave a set of
parents behind looking for their 12-year-old daughter.
I walked off the ship at 9:30 a.m. and was home by 10:50. That is
hard to beat!
This review has made many
criticisms, most of which frankly arenít that relevant to your
enjoyment of the ship and the cruise (except maybe for the dining
room). Itís a good itinerary, perhaps best suited for veteran
cruisers wanting some different ports. For example, many ships stay
well into the evening at Cozumel, many until midnight ó the Pride
left at 5 p.m. First-time cruisers might prefer a ship that stays
longer. (A plug: Carnival has several.)
At any rate, the Pride is a
wonderful ship even with its odd designs. I would go on it again. A
seven-day cruise is a rich, full experience regardless of the
quibbles (or even the cruise line, quite honestly).
Carnival has decided to move the
Pride to Los Angeles and replace it at Port Canaveral in July 2003
with a Destiny-type ship, the 110,000-ton Carnival Glory, which will
be new. Glory, Hallelujah! The Glory will probably more of a
traditional Fun Ship. Carnival says it will have the same
itineraries as the Pride. Sounds beautiful.
Life is a cruise, so let's hit the Lido Deck now!