Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Normandie Restaurant is a lovely huge two level room. The opening in the middle exposed each level to the other, which gave the dinning room a feeling of grandeur we did not experience with Princess.  Princess had 3 different, much smaller dinning rooms, each separated from the other. Further the ceilings in the dinning rooms were much lower than those on Pride, thus, while elegant and beautiful, they most definitely did not have the open grand feel found on Pride.

I will state right up front that we shared our table with 2 other very nice, very proper, lovely couples. Further, both couples were very experienced cruisers, thus we felt it might be improper to take photos while dining. So Sorry but we have no “food porn” photos.

The food on Pride was every bit as good as, if not in some cases, better than found on Caribbean Princess. I know that food is a very personal thing, however, insofar as our taste is concerned, we found every meal outstanding.

The food was tasteful, well presented and plentiful. Each and every meal was an experience that we enjoyed immensely.

The one and only thing that “disturbed” me slightly was their manner in handling tipping in the MDR. We opted, as we always do, for the automatic tipping. This gives us the peace of mind that those who deserve tipping will be given their proper due. We did this on Princess and we did so again on Pride.

So far So Good!! On Princess this was the beginning and end of tipping PERIOD! We chose to give a little extra to our room steward and waiter on Princess as we did again on Pride. However, at the disembarkation talk they told us they would be sending an envelope to each room should we wish to include a tip for the Maitre’D.  I was at a loss. This had never been discussed on CC, my bible on cruise etiquette, and while he shook my hand and everyone else’s as we entered the dinning room, he did little else while the waiter staff ran their feet off.

Now they are “strongly” suggesting we give him a tip. I did so, as I felt uncomfortable not doing it, when I was unsure as to how to proceed. Having said this, I believe strongly, that if you are going to have automatic tipping then that should be the end of the subject unless the Guest should decide otherwise. Having a suggestion such as this, to tip the Maitre’D, just put me off a little and thought it was somewhat tasteless.

While the rooms and the food are the skeleton and skin of the Ship, Pride’s heart and sole come from the Entertainment Staff and it’s Cruise Directors. And… They are very good at it…

Unfortunately the most professional, most exposed and most inter-personal part of the cruise is also the one that is most protected by copyrights. I understand why, it is just a shame that the people that make this ship tick are also the ones, at their most professional, are not allowed to be photographed.

Let me start this part of the review with my impressions of the Cruise Director and his staff.

I am a seasoned cruiser with one whole cruise under my belt (but it was a 10 day cruise) before boarding Pride. Again let me tell you how impressed I was with Princess, and will sail with them again in the future, however if there ever was a difference between these two ships it lies clearly in this department.

Every member of the Cruise Director’s staff was a true professional. I watched them as they interacted with the Guests and they were warm, welcoming and very inclusive. It amazed me how Kirk and Jaime were able to remember the names of the guests they encountered on more than one occasion. This has always been a weakness of mine (remembering names) but these two have this down pat.

While the Cruise Director Staff on Princess was available to the Guests, it took Kirk and his staff to show me just how a Cruise Director Department should operate.  They were silly when they needed to be, funny when they needed to be, serious when they needed to be, and again… very inclusive. They not only got people to participate but they got them to want to participate. There is a huge difference between the two.

Every time I saw either Kirk or Jaime talking with someone, they appeared to not just be listening to what the Guest was saying, but they seemed to be genuinely interested in what was being discussed.  Now this staff meets thousands of different Guests each and every week, and to be able to maintain this level of interaction day after day, week after week, Guests after different gaggles of Guests is a true talent. Pride is very lucky to have them.

The Theatre Shows were the best I have seen. I will admit here that I found some better than others, however, on average they were outstanding.  I want to focus on one in particular, which was on Monday night. I do not know the name of the production and revisiting the FUNTIMES did not help me as it just says “Showtime”, but it was a show highlighting dances from around the world.  What impressed me were the choreography, stage props and most of all the transitions between scenes. I could easily compare this show to a production expected at the Theatre back home. This show was way over the top and the dances and singers were extraordinary. I just can’t say enough about them, I was truly impressed.

Photos of Welcome Aboard Show (no announcement about copyright)

You have to understand that I thought I was lowering my expectations when I decided to cruise Carnival yet everything I encountered with the Entertainment Department was exactly the opposite. What a shame we come home and have no visual memories of some of the best crewmembers on the ship. 
Between Baltimore and Port Canaveral we were fortunate enough to have a guest singer on board who performed in the Theatre on Tuesday night. Please excuse me here, but I think his name was Marcus Anthony (that may be incorrect). This man was a true pleasure. He could sing and capture a crowd like no one I have seen before. Pride had an early show for late diners and late shows for early diners. We were so impressed during Marcus’ first show we discussed the possibility of skipping supper and watching his second show. Now to be on board a cruise and actually think about missing a meal should tell you just how much we enjoyed this man. He was Great!

We are not game show/trivia type people and I would much rather sit by a window a watch the ocean, thus have little I can say about these venues. I pay money to be on the sea, and thus like to spend every possible moment on board near and in view of the water.

The “casual” entertainment throughout the ship was of the same caliber as the rest of this department. Everyone, without exception, was a professional and his or her obvious talents were well displayed.
We were very lucky when we first boarded the Pride. We went for a quick lunch at the Mermaid Grill. Understandably, ever table was taken so we asked this couple if we could join them.  We were lucky enough to have our first meeting with who was to become “Pride’s Celebrity of the week” and his wife.
Steve (the celebrity) and Kim (his lovely wife) grew to become friends of ours during the cruise and each day, at each event we found ourselves searching them out. They were a delight to meet and we enjoyed our time with them very much.

Here is the 3D photo I promised them, with the Cruise Director and his Assistant:

Could I make a recommendation to the Pride and/or Carnival Cruise Lines it would be as follows:
If you are going to make announcements during the day, I would recommend they be ones that the passengers would find useful. As we sailed out the first day at sea we passed a “group” of dolphins. While we all knew when bingo was going to take place, only if you were lucky enough to be on top deck did you know about the dolphins. On the return, apparently, we passed a US aircraft carrier in launch and recover operations, there was even a rumor that a sub may have been sighted. Nary a mention was made of these on the PA system.

While many wanted to know about Bingo, I am certain that everyone would have loved to have known the info about the Carrier and the dolphins. Why the bridge didn’t let us know is beyond my comprehension.

Having gotten that off my chest:  Overall impressions and preferences are hard to evaluate and put into a comprehensive post. This will be based on my personal impressions of such things as:
The feel of the ship
The décor
The cleanliness
The Cabin
The service
The food
The entertainment
The friendliness of the crew;
AND the price.

Of course the ports of call also play a part but for my purposes I have decided to ignore these and focus just on the ship itself. We most certainly did not choose this cruise because of the ports of call, for us it was an escape cruise just for the love of cruising.  We booked this cruise with the “Oh well, for the money, what have we got to loose?” attitude. Having only experienced Princess and all web sites we visited rating them higher than Carnival we had reservations.

I can state emphatically that there was little I would rate below Princess. Pride is a beautiful ship with a conscientious and friendly crew. She is clean, well maintained and easy to move around on (in), even with a full complement of Guests.   The staff was every bit as friendly and helpful as Princess and our cabin was more spacious than the one we had on Princess. I did, however, find the cabin layout on Princess to be somewhat more comfortable, but this was far overshadowed by the comfort of the beds on Pride.
I could go through each and every aspect and make similar comments but let me just sum it up by saying this: I would not, for even one second, hesitate to book a Carnival Cruise again. They are professional, friendly, inclusive and entertaining.

NOW: for the most important part of the comparison…. The Price.
We were able to book this cruise, 7 days in a balcony stateroom for 1/3 the best price I could find on any Princess cruise (similar cabin category). I know that there are variables such as port of embarkation, time of year, and capacity all play a role BUT 1/3 the price of the other is a significant consideration.
This was the original basis for our decision to choose Carnival, now we have had the experience of a Fun Ship and look forward to our next. We most certainly will sail Carnival again, as we will Princess.
If you are a Princess Cruiser, I urge you to put any trepidation, you might have, aside, it has no place here. Carnival provides a wonderful experience on a beautiful ship and I have no reason to believe it would be any different on any of their other ships.

Next Post:  Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center

Friday, April 29, 2011

Carnival Pride - Beauties Disco

Moving further aft we found the most interesting, delightful and artful area on the ship (IMHO). Beauties Disco. This is the same venue they use for the Chef’s Table, which we did not partake in (unfortunately). I heard it was well worth the money and the food and entertainment was outstanding. This is 3rd hand information I know, but better than no information at all.

The disco is a very unique room. Upon entering you do not get the feel for the room. It appears to be this small little bar with a hole in the middle that allows you to descend to a lighted dance floor. On our first visit this was all we saw and we spent some time upstairs looking down at everyone having fun.

The next day we went down the circular staircase and found a whole other room, just off the dance floor, under the bar area. It could not be viewed from above. It was absolutely unique and quite bright and different.

I know that I have been pushing 3D photos in this review, they (to me) add something not normally included in reviews, and I also know that some of you are having difficulty viewing them, BUT…. The photo of the disco I took from the dance floor looking back towards the circular stair case and the “under room” is truly beautiful.

I encourage everyone to try crossing their eyes one more time and try and view this photo. You know how it is, after getting home you find one that stands out from all the others! This is the one for me. This photo completely captures the feel of the disco much more than any of my other photos. You will understand if you can view it.

Next was the Florentine Lounge. This was basically a waiting bar area just outside the Main Dinning Room. It was a lovely area to sit and listen to easy listening music usually played by a solo musician.
The area is usually crowded just before dinnertime and the ceilings are very low. I say this because one night, I believe it was second last night, they had the Theatre Band in here playing for us.

Now this band is great and their musicians are true professionals as is their singer (sorry I don’t remember her name), HOWEVER, they do their best work in the Theatre. When you take that same sound and volume (designed for a Theatre) and place it in such a small cramped area it quickly becomes overwhelming. While they were playing it was almost impossible to remain in the lounge. My wife and I, along with many others, were forced to leave the area until the dinner line had almost dissipated. The solo guitarist and/or the pianist truly missed on that night.

Once again, this has nothing to do with the talent or music of this band, just the venue where they were playing. The room just can’t handle such a powerful volume as they produce. Sad really, because that was our only real time to be up close and personal with the band and they were deserving of recognition.
Sorry, I do not have photos of this area. This is not due to the lack of enjoyment we had in this lounge, but rather the memory of an aging fool who just plain forgot. Sorry.

Next Post ... The Main Dining Room

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Carnival Pride - Inside Public Rooms (2)

Moving towards the “aft” of the ship we next encountered the Starry Night Lounge. This is where they held the Karaoke Singing and everyone had a great time. Many times the crowd spilled out into the seating area of the hallway. Kids and adults alike were able to show off their abilities (or lack there of) to sing. The important thing is that the lounge was always busy and everyone was having fun. The host was great at finding the songs that the performers wanted and he made the place work.

This was the biggest ship casino I have seen so far. It was easily twice the size of the one on Caribbean Princess and was always busy. There were many more types of games available and lots of slots. If you wanted to play any type of game there always seemed to be a place for you. I found that nice.

One word of warning: The smoke in this area and the associated Sports bar is beyond description. It was like walking into a cloud and the smell spread from the casino into all other areas near it. Our dining room company told us that they would go out of their way to not go through the casino due to the smoke. While my wife is sensitive to smoke we didn’t find it quite that bad, but it was very noticeable. One thing that Princess did was to have one night during the cruise where smoking was not permitted in the casino. That was nice but given the crowd on Pride this might not have been an acceptable option. Everyone in the casino did not seem to mind so it must be working for Carnival.

During port days there was hardly a notice of smoke so they must have a great ventilation system.
Above the casino was the Ivory Piano Bar. This was the only bar that had easy listening music. What we missed the most was a place where we could listen to such music and dance if we wished. There didn’t seem to be such a place on Pride. I missed dancing with my wife very much, especially on dress up nights.

Moving aft from the Casino one encounters the Main Atrium. I spoke of my feeling of the décor on Pride in earlier posts so won’t berate that subject anymore.

I found the passengers on Pride to be very participatory when it came to dressing up on Formal nights as is evident in the photo below.

The women and little girls were all dolled up and yet they somehow seemed out of place in Prides Atrium. Further, every nook and cranny was occupied by one photographer or another. Each had their own backdrop, which was nice, but it did interfere with the movement of the guests.

One thing we enjoyed very much on Princess was the Champaign Waterfall, where everyone had a chance to go to the top and get a photo of them pouring the Champaign. See photo below.

I really missed having a photo opportunity such as this on Pride. Familys assembled on the staircases, but, again (IMHO) it seemed somewhat out of place with them dressed up and the stairs so dark and heavy.
OK… OK… I have said enough about the Atruim so will depart, but not before mentioning the one interesting and unique feature found there.

Associated with the panorama elevators is a space that rises up to the top of the ship that is capped with a skylight. This gave a unique and beautiful effect to the area and, when we were in David’s Steakhouse on the first night, we noticed we could hear the music from the Atruim as it rose up to us. This might bother others but I found it to be inclusive as we were away from the crowds but still felt like we were with them. I almost began thinking I was missing something, especially since we were up there during the SuperBowl.

Next post - Beauties Disco (This deserves a post all to itself)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Carnival Pride - Inside Public Rooms (1)

The Exercise, Spa, and Whirlpool area was very interesting. This is the only “gym” area that I have seen built on multiple areas. It was bright, colorful and unique. Of course, being located at the front of the ship, it provided a beautiful view of the bow and upcoming ocean.

Another place that I found extremely enjoyable to visit was the Sun Deck directly above the bridge. From this vantage point I was able to take some fantastic photos as we entered different ports.


The Taj Mahal Theatre is a spectacular area. Again I found the white walls with sparkles unnecessary but it was noticeable.

The seating area at the bottom was comfortable especially with the little tables in front of the seats. It gave you a place to put drinks etc. and still lots of legroom. I found the ceilings in this area to be low and when we sat at the back I had the feeling I was missing something as you could not see the top of the stage area. This was certainly not the case, the views were actually perfect, it was just a feeling I had. The upper balconies are the truly interesting part of the Theatre. There were stairs everywhere taking you to different levels. It is hard to explain but I would not have wanted to be the architect who designed this, it is truly interesting.

In the balconies, if you are of medium or smaller height you may find that the top of the protective glass will block your view. The glass is capped with a silver strip. It never bothered me but my wife had us move to the second row in order that she could get an unobstructed view because of this.

I will get to the entertainment a little later in the review.

Beside the theatre on the Promenade deck there are two (one on each side of the ship) lounges. They are called the Sunset Lounge(s). I am not quite sure what they were designed for but they did serve as a nice respite area if you needed to get away from everything. As a lucky balcony cabin guest we never felt the need to take advantage of this area but I can sure see how a person with an inside cabin might use this area more than others. It provided a lovely place to sit, watch the ocean pass by and enjoy a coffee (or other such beverage).  The décor seemed out of place from the rest of the ship but, all on it’s own it was quite a lovely little spot to find.

Directly below the theatre is the Butterfly Lounge. The entrance is special with all the butterflies in glass on display (see photos below). My wife spent a lot of time here examining each and every butterfly. She loved them.


The Lounge itself was great. I held a lot of people yet never felt cramped. Every seat gave you the feeling of being close to the performers and thus the shows were up close and personal. I loved the time we spent in this lounge.

Next Post ... Inside Public Rooms continued.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Carnival Pride - Upper Decks

Again I will say how easy I found it to navigate through the passageways on Pride. All public hallways were wide and accessible. There was always a nice place to sit (and people watch) in comfort.
One of the big dislikes that I had on this cruise was the public PA system. It eludes me as to why Carnival goes to the great expense of producing daily schedules, religiously placed on you bed each evening and then makes an announcement on the PA prior to each event. To me (IMHO) this gave the ship a feel of a department store. “Welcome K-Mart Shoppers”! In all public areas the volume of these announcements were so loud as to make hearing and understanding what was being said vary from difficult to impossible. If they are going to continue making these broadcasts I would suggest they tone down the volume, not so we, the guests, can ignore them, but rather so we can understand them more clearly. The speaker system on Pride clearly can’t handle the volume and thus all voices are over modulated.

Having said that, and I know that many will disagree with me, I would like to move on to the upper decks of Pride.

Pride is very nicely designed and more than capable of handling the number of passengers that sail her. Being a smaller ship it constantly amazed me just how many activities were taking place at one time. All without interfering with each other.

Sailing out of Baltimore, in the middle of the winter, one soon appreciates the retractable roof over the Venus Swimming Pool. This little feature allowed us to enjoy the outdoor fresh air on the very first day of sailing. On those days when we encountered high winds, again the retractable roof saved the day. I did find the noise of everyone having fun a little loud with the roof on but that is not to be helped given that voices bounce off the walls and the ceiling. This, however, never distracted from the comfort of the swimming area. What we enjoyed the most was to “fill our plates” in the Mermaid Grill and then sit and eat by the pool. There was always plenty of room to sit and enjoy the activities.

Speaking of the Mermaid Grill, I found this area to be a very efficient and well organized buffet area. On Princess everything was located in one area, so if you wanted food you had to join the gang and fight for position. Even if all you wanted was a piece of bread, or a salad, or a cookie. They were all located in the same area. Not so on Pride. Hot food was in one area, salads in another, and deserts in another. This arrangement seemed to work well once you were aware of where each station is located. Lines of people never seemed to exceed 5-10 at any one time. Very efficient (IMHO).

I am making the final 2D photo larger than the others as I want  you to note something interesting. 

If you follow the flow of dark smoke from the Ship's Stack to the horizon, you will note that we were experiencing an inversion of some sort which resulted in the Pride's Pollution being held on the suface of the ocean.  Minutes earlier, we noted it, and it was more obvious, but by the time I got the camera it had begun to disperse.  Interesting none the less.

Next post.  Carnival Pride Public Rooms continued.