I usually fly to a cruise vacation rather than driving. But my drive-to cruise phobia lifted the minute Carnival announced it was doing year-round cruises from Baltimore. I was truly looking forward to not having to go through the stressful security and baggage gauntlet at the airport.
Why fly when you can drive?
After a four-hour plus drive from Pittsburgh the family car pulled into the Cruise Maryland Terminal where within 15 minutes luggage was dropped off, the car was parked, and the family was in the terminal waiting to check-in for the cruise. A half-hour later we were onboard the Carnival Pride noshing on buffet fare. If all cruise embarkations could be this smooth!
Different ‘Fun Ship’ crowd
Having cruised a number of Carnival Cruises, mostly out of Florida, the one thing I noticed immediately on my eight-day August sailing was that the crowd onboard the Pride was a tad older and not the typical ‘yahooers’ you find on the ‘Fun Ships’. Many were there because the price was right. In fact, the Smiths of Virginia, longtime Carnival customers, boasted about scoring a last minute $350 per person fare. “They offer the best value in cruising — by far,” said Karl Smith.
While most onboard probably didn’t get quite the deal the Smiths did the one thing 95 percent of the passengers had in common was they had all driven to the cruise. Suffice it to say the $120 parking fee was a lot cheaper than multiple round-trip airline tickets. Still, the real value is the cruise itself.
The 88,500-ton, 2,124-passenger Carnival Pride offers a variety of accommodations, including a wide selection of balcony staterooms and suites – perfect for scenic cruising. Value conscious cruisers will appreciate the spacious inside stateroom accommodations. All include Carnival Comfort Beds, bathrobes, and plenty of storage space.
The ship also offers a host of facilities and features, including indoor and outdoor promenades, three pools, great spa and gym, wedding chapel, library, Internet Café, a casino, variety of lounges, bars and nightspots, including the Taj Mahal theater showcasing lavish production revues and comedy acts. Family friendly amenities include organized programs just for kids of different age groups — “Camp Carnival” for younger kids, “Circle C” for 12- to 14-year-olds, and “Club O2” for older teens — with supervised activities and expansive facilities for each.
Top 10 short cruise vacationsCarnival Pride has only one main dining room, the stylish Normandie Restaurant, which seats up to 1,200 diners for early and late seating along with the new open seat dining option. Besides the main dining room, the Mermaid Grill on the Lido Deck features a different international cuisine each day, as well as hand-carved meats, Asian-inspired specialties, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, and deli sandwiches. The best dining experience onboard the ship is at David’s Steakhouse, Carnival’s supper club venue where for $30 guests can indulge their palates. The two-story restaurant specializes in steakhouse cuisine, including hand-cut, dry-aged prime beef, seafood and specialty wines served in five- or six-courses that takes several hours. The giant replica of Michelangelo’s David statue and the top-of-the-ship views make for a special and interesting ambiance.
Despite carrying a full load of passengers, including 900 children, the Pride felt amazingly uncrowded even a bit cozy at times. One truly peaceful area onboard is the aptly-named Secret Garden that is located at the front of the ship just off the show lounge. This rarely utilized area offers tables for two and large round windows with sea views. Other quiet areas include the library and card room. I admit much of this ‘coziness’ was due in part to rough seas whipped up by Hurricane Bill and Tropical Storm Danny during the course of the sailing. Clearly, on two of the sea days many passengers were hunkered down in their staterooms afflicted with sea sickness.
Fun Ship follies
During the day the choice of activities and group attractions is endless: spa treatments, fitness classes, miniature golf, three pools, movies, karaoke, a busy children’s program with an energetic staff — you name it; it’s on board the Pride. But it’s the passenger-participation spectacles that provide the most memorable moments. The best was the poolside “Hairy Chest Contest,” in which fur-ball rivals competed to get audience approval and to cop a feel from the judge — a curvy brunette clad in a tiny bikini that showcased her ‘interesting’ tattoos. Ironically the two top contenders could pass for characters right out of “Family Guy”. There was wild Rangwal a doctor from the Philadelphia area and outlandish Oscar a businessman from Scranton. Even though Rangwal was clearly hairier, Oscar won out because he had the most vocal fan club. At the end both fan favorites led a large conga line around the Lido Deck.
Carnival Pride’s itinerary changes with the seasons. In the fall and winter months it offers seven-day Bahamas sailings that include Port Canaveral, Nassau, Freeport and three sea days. In the late spring and summer it alternates with the aforementioned itinerary and Eastern Caribbean sailings that include Freeport, Grand Turk, and private island Half Moon Cay. The Eastern Caribbean sailing offers the best itinerary by far.
Grand Turk is a picture postcard destination — turquoise waters, perfect sand, and water as warm as a bathtub. Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island, is cruiser’s nirvana. Thankfully Carnival is able to utilize the island during the summer months since Holland America does not offer Caribbean cruises at that time. The majority of the island is international bird sanctuary; however, there are 55-acres developed just for cruisers. Developed areas include an aqua park, nature trail, horseback riding trails, stingray encounter, and the most indulgent activity of all — renting one of the 15 air conditioned, private beachfront cabanas for $225. Freeport, while not my favorite Bahamian port, does offer some excellent beach options.
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Joy in Pride
One thing is very consistent on a Carnival Cruise Line’s cruise — excellent service. I have yet to endure a bad crew experience on any of their ships. During my Pride sailing there were many outstanding crew.
Shockingly, disembarkation was the quickest I’ve ever experienced on any ship. This is saying a lot because I’ve experienced some horrendous disembarkations on Carnival. Luggage pick up was a breeze and customs was brisk and efficient — again if all cruises could be this easy.
Its official: We are hooked on drive-to cruising to Baltimore so much so that the route has been saved in the car’s GPS for a future cruise sometime next year. Being able to drive to a cruise offers great convenience, not to mention tremendous cost savings by not having to buy airline tickets. Carnival has a winner sailing the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore year round. Every guest I have spoken with wants to come back for another cruise. Simply put — you can’t beat the convenience and amazing value for the money.
If you go:
Carnival Pride’s Baltimore-based seven-day voyages to the Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean go depart and arrive on Sundays. Fares start at $469 per person (inside stateroom). Visit Carnival Cruise Lines’ Web site for more details.