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A Week of Fun in the Caribbean Awaits This Fun Ship
Carnival. Just that one word alone is probably enough for you to formulate an impression in your mind of what it is to take a Carnival cruise. And, unless you’ve sailed with the line before, I’m here to tell you it’s probably wrong.
This afternoon, I embarked the 963-foot long Carnival Pride in the port of Baltimore, Maryland for a weeklong voyage to the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
I hand-picked this voyage for several reasons. One, I love these Spirit-class cruise ships that Carnival has; they are, in my opinion, among the very best ships in the line’s fleet for their spaciousness and amenities. But I’d also wanted to try sailing out of Baltimore; a port I knew relatively little about.
The full itinerary:
Carnival Pride - Eastern Caribbean from Baltimore
|Sunday, August 14, 2016||Baltimore, MD||Embark Carnival Pride||4:30 PM|
|Monday, August 15||At Sea|
|Tuesday, August 16||At Sea|
|Wednesday, August 17||Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos||8:00 AM||2:30 PM|
|Thursday, August 18||Half Moon Cay, Bahamas||8:00 AM||5:00 PM|
|Friday, August 19||Freeport, Bahamas||7:00 AM||1:30 PM|
|Saturday, August 20||At Sea|
|Sunday, August 21||Baltimore, MD||07:00||Disembark|
Baltimore isn’t your standard Caribbean cruise embarkation port. Located 40 miles north of Washington, DC and a little over 100 miles south of Philadelphia, Baltimore Cruise Terminal is the quintessential “drive-up” port that has been designed, primarily, for guests who prefer to take the car and not fly to their port of embarkation. Canadians could even drive to Baltimore from Toronto in about a day, though whether you’d want to do that in the winter is another matter.
Embarkation at the Port of Baltimore took one hour and 14 minutes from the time I entered the terminal until the point I stepped onboard Carnival Spirit. Carnival has introduced staggered boarding times on cruises out of select ports, including Baltimore, in order to improve the embarkation experience. Other ports featuring staggered boarding include Barcelona, Charleston, Galveston, Honolulu, Miami, New Orleans, and Norfolk, VA.
Here’s how it works: when you fill in your online check-in on Carnival.com, you are asked to select an embarkation window in increments of 30 minutes. Once a selected window is full, it is no longer available – so complete your online check-in early if you want to be among the first to board and don’t have VIP status or a “Faster to the Fun” pass.
I selected 12:00-12:30 for one reason only: I’d consider 12:00 Noon to be a peak embarkation time, and I wanted to see how Carnival’s new system coped with the strain.
On the positive side, this was one of the speedier big-ship embarkations I’ve had, and it went quickly once I got through the initial document check line, which took up nearly 90 percent of that hour and 14 minutes.
On the downside, the Baltimore Cruise Terminal is not putting its best foot forward. Smiles are hard to come by, and the bored-looking staff sound like drones reading from a prepared statement. “Welcome back to Carnival,” my agent said tonelessly. “Enjoy your cruise.”
What does make a good first impression, though, are the smiling staff of the Carnival Pride, who greet guests pleasantly and genuinely as they embark. It’s one of the things I like most about Carnival – the quality of its staff and crew – and I was more than happy to find that same, wonderful service as I stepped onboard.
To look at her, you’d never know Carnival Pride is 14 years old. Entering service in January of 2002, this 2,124-guest ship absolutely sparkles inside. Public rooms were greatly refreshed during a 20-day drydock back in 2014, which saw the addition of Guy’s Burger Joint, the BlueIguana Cantina and Tequila Bar, the RedFrog Pub and RedFrog Rum Bar, Bonsai Sushi, a new Waterworks aqua area, the SkyBox Sports Bar, the Alchemy Bar, Cherry on Top, the Seaside Theatre, and new carpeting and soft furnishings throughout.
My home for the week is one of Carnival Pride’s Category 8A Balcony Staterooms on Deck 4 aft. I particularly like these ones because they have unobstructed views from the balcony; they look down over the last quarter of the Promenade Deck on Deck 3. Other balcony staterooms amidships have views obstructed (partially) by the ship’s lifeboats.
Inside, the stateroom is typically Carnival. The line’s staterooms are larger, on average, than its competitors, and this room is no exception. It’s large enough to boast a full-sized couch as a sitting area with an adjustable table, a queen-sized bed (which can be separated to two twins), two end-tables, a desk and vanity area, a mini-fridge, flat-panel television set, and three full-sized closets, four drawers, and a mini-cupboard that’s large enough to fit purchases ashore, books, or other small items.
If you’ve sailed aboard any of the line’s other ships (with the exception of the Fantasy-class), you’ll know immediately where everything is. These staterooms are very comfortable. They’re well-lit during the daytime, and cozy in the evening. And storage space is more than enough for two people on a Caribbean cruise.
Before leaving home, I used my online Carnival cruise personalizer to pre-order a flat of 12 bottles of water and a six-pack of Ginger-Ale to be delivered to my stateroom upon embarkation. The water was $3.99 for a flat of 12; the Ginger-Ale was $6.99. Ordering in advance is far cheaper than buying either of these items a’la carte onboard the ship.
When I embarked today, there was the water and the ginger-ale, waiting for me. And it all fit conveniently inside the mini-fridge underneath the desk/vanity area.
If there’s a drawback to my room, it’s the chair and the couch: both could use a reupholstering job, as they’re beginning to show their age. And I’ll just never like the peach-coloured leather couches, no matter how much I try.
At 4:00 p.m., the ship’s muster drill was held, and by 5:00 p.m., we were making our way out into the bay and the open expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Thunderstorms lit up the sky at our stern as dusk fell, and the oppressive heat and humidity (111°F) kept most guests indoors.
This is, without a doubt, my favorite class of Carnival ship to-date. I loved my experience aboard Carnival Miracle last year, and I’m enjoying Carnival Pride for many of the same reasons: fewer passengers, a higher passenger-space ratio of 41.1, and a super-easy-to-navigate deck plan that heightens the sense of discovery with plenty of curving corridors, intimate public rooms, and grand open spaces.
With a few hours to kill before the start of my late-seating dinner at 8:15 p.m., I chose to do something I’ve never done: I went to the sports bar.
Yes, it’s true: I’ve never sat at the sports bar on any cruise I’ve ever taken. In fact, I’ve never stayed in the sports bar longer than is necessary to photograph the room. It’s not that I have anything against sports; it just doesn’t hold an important place in my life.
Today, however, I made an exception: I ambled up to the bar in the SkyBox Sports Bar on Deck 2 forward, ordered a Coney Island Amber Ale, and watched coverage of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (which I am into!).
And I loved it. The new SkyBox Sports Bar is a great addition to the ship, with a wall of high-definition TV screens that acts as a seamless wall behind the bar area. Tables are clustered around the room, along with ample bar seating and some cozy crescent-shaped booths lining the windows. Another bonus: the beer menu is quite good, with a very respectable selection of craft beers and imported brews available.
If you don’t like sports bars on ships, take my advice: amble in just once, have a beer, and give it a try. I surprised myself by staying for an hour until it was time for dinner.
Aboard Carnival Pride, you’ve got your choice for dinner in the ship’s main dining room:
- Your Time Dining: Normandie Restaurant, Deck 3 Aft. 5:45 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
- Early Dining: Normandie Restaurant, Deck 2 Aft. 6:00 p.m.
- Late Dining: Normandie Restaurant, Deck 2 Aft. 8:15 p.m.
Traditionally, cruise ships always served dinner in two sittings: Early and Late. About a decade ago, the “whatever” revolution in cruising led to the creation of a scheme where you could dine whenever you wanted. Carnival calls this “Your Time Dining”, and the upper level of the two-story Normandie Restaurant is devoted to it. You simply wander in whenever you’re ready to dine, and a waiter will seat you. You have a different waiter every night and no assigned table.
Personally, I love that Carnival still offers Early and Late seating. I always choose the Late Seating at 8:15 p.m. because I enjoy having a set table and the same wait staff, and a set time for dinner. Since I’m sailing solo on this particular cruise, it’s also a great way for me to meet some new people and not have to go through the horrifying introductions (who are you, what do you do…) night after night.
This evening I dined on an appetizer of raw salmon with capers and lemon, followed by a main dish of Baked Crimson Snapper Filet. A fruit plate for dessert and a cup of coffee rounded out the evening nicely for me, along with conversation from some very nice tablemates.
I probably should have gone to bed, or back to the room to work; when you write about cruises, you have no shortage of work to catch up on. Instead, I went to the Alchemy Bar for one of Carnival’s hand-made cocktails to celebrate the start of another FunShip voyage; one I’m greatly looking forward to.
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