A Week of Fun in the Caribbean Awaits This Fun Ship

Carnival Pride eases her way out into the Atlantic Ocean on the evening of August 14, 2016. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Carnival Pride eases her way out into the Atlantic Ocean on the evening of August 14, 2016. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Sunday, August 14, 2016Baltimore, MDEmbark Carnival Pride4:30 PM
Monday, August 15At Sea
Tuesday, August 16At Sea
Wednesday, August 17Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos8:00 AM2:30 PM
Thursday, August 18Half Moon Cay, Bahamas8:00 AM5:00 PM
Friday, August 19Freeport, Bahamas7:00 AM1:30 PM
Saturday, August 20At Sea
Sunday, August 21Baltimore, MD07:00Disembark

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.

The Port of Baltimore suffered a bit of a gangway accident a few months back. The gangway still hasn't been replaced. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Port of Baltimore suffered a bit of a gangway accident a few months back. The gangway still hasn’t been replaced. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Instead, guests get to take a stroll through four shipping containers - in temperatures that broke the 100F mark. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Instead, guests get to take a stroll through four shipping containers – in temperatures that broke the 100F mark. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Welcome aboard Carnival Pride! The always-popular Atrium Bar, as seen from the Deck 4 elevator landing. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Welcome aboard Carnival Pride! The always-popular Atrium Bar, as seen from the Deck 4 elevator landing. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Random Carnival Pride corridor shot, Deck 4 midship. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Random Carnival Pride corridor shot, Deck 4 midship. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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 Category 8A Veranda Stateroom on Deck 4 aft aboard Carnival Pride is quintessentially Carnival. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

My Category 8A Veranda Stateroom on Deck 4 aft aboard Carnival Pride is quintessentially Carnival. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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 with Carnival before, you'll find that everything is exactly where you'd expect it to be in staterooms aboard Carnival Pride. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve sailed with Carnival before, you’ll find that everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be in staterooms aboard Carnival Pride. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Balcony staterooms like this run approximately 185 square feet, and offer plenty of space for two. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Balcony staterooms like this run approximately 185 square feet, and offer plenty of space for two. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Another plus: three full-sized closets. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Another plus: three full-sized closets. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

I pre-ordered a flat of water and a six-pack of ginger-ale, and was happy to see it arrived in my stateroom long before I did. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I pre-ordered a flat of water and a six-pack of ginger-ale, and was happy to see it arrived in my stateroom long before I did. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Bathrooms aboard Carnival Pride haven't changed much from their predecessors. Bonus points for the great amount of shelf space. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Bathrooms aboard Carnival Pride haven’t changed much from their predecessors. Bonus points for the great amount of shelf space. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Yep, it's the dreaded shower curtain. I'd love to see glass doors, but...where's the fun in that? Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Yep, it’s the dreaded shower curtain. I’d love to see glass doors, but…where’s the fun in that? Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Today's FunTimes daily program. Note the new, slimmer design of the program; great for carrying around in your pocket so you never miss a thing. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Today’s FunTimes daily program. Note the new, slimmer design of the program; great for carrying around in your pocket so you never miss a thing. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At 4:00 p.m., guests went out onto the Promenade Deck on Deck 3 for the customary muster drill. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At 4:00 p.m., guests went out onto the Promenade Deck on Deck 3 for the customary muster drill. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

By 5:00 p.m., we were moving away from Baltimore...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

By 5:00 p.m., we were moving away from Baltimore…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and heading out to sea! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and heading out to sea! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ships leaving Baltimore must first pass under the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ships leaving Baltimore must first pass under the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Built in 1977, it is the longest bridge in the Baltimore area...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Built in 1977, it is the longest bridge in the Baltimore area…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and a spectacular sight to sail under. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and a spectacular sight to sail under. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

This evening in the SkyBox Sports Bar on Deck 2 forward: coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This evening in the SkyBox Sports Bar on Deck 2 forward: coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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!).

I grabbed myself a Coney Island amber ale...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I grabbed myself a Coney Island amber ale…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and sat down to watch Team Canada compete in the Women's Diving. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and sat down to watch Team Canada compete in the Women’s Diving. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

This statue welcomes guests into...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This statue welcomes guests into…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...the very beautiful Normandie Dining Room. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…the very beautiful Normandie Dining Room. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

At two decks in height, the dining room features subtle backlit panels that work their way attractively into the overall decor scheme. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At two decks in height, the dining room features subtle backlit panels that work their way attractively into the overall decor scheme. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

The extreme temperatures caused some thunderclouds to form at night...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The extreme temperatures caused some thunderclouds to form at night…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

The Alchemy Bar by day. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Alchemy Bar by day. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

What better way to end the evening? Cocktails and reading in the Alchemy Bar on Deck 2 aft. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

What better way to end the evening? Cocktails and reading in the Alchemy Bar on Deck 2 aft. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Pride will continue tomorrow with a Fun Day at Sea! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

 

 

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