June 2015 - Carnival Pride to Caribbean - Bahamas
This was our first cruise (family of four), and enjoyed just about everything about it. Being 90 minutes from the Baltimore port, it was an easy and non-stressful drive. That was one of the main factors of picking this particular cruise - the locality of the port. I originally chose an extended balcony room on the 7th deck, but upgraded later through a 'special discounted offer' to an ocean suite on deck 6 since I wanted lots of room for 2 adults and 2 teens. The room itself was great - lots of closet space and loved the balcony. However I think I know why the upgrade was discounted - the view below the balcony is partially restricted by a row of lifeboats a deck below, somewhat blocking the view of the ocean waves directly below the balcony. You only really notice it when standing up at the rail, however. Not a big deal - but something to be aware of when choosing a room, despite doing some research beforehand. After looking at photos of the extended balcony rooms, I think they would have been sufficient for the four of us, but overall we really liked the suite. Apparently the Pride had undergone a recent renovation and looks really good inside - like new. The top decks where the pools are have a new drop down water tube/slide which was really fun, in addition to the mellower yellow slide for those who don't want to be dropped suddenly at a vertical angle. The mini golf course was actually a lot of fun - the slightly rocking boat and wind at sea made it somewhat of a challenge.
Our steward and the housekeeping staff were all very polite, and did a great job cleaning the room twice a day - I left them a good tip at the end of the week even though we prepaid our gratuities. The food for the most part was very good - whether you dined in the restaurant (Normandie) or the buffet-style restaurants on the Lido deck. I did notice that a lot of the choices they serve for dinner at the Normandie are also available at the Lido buffets, except you serve yourself. But the service and entertainment you get at the dine-in restaurant are worth it, as the servers are part of the musical entertainment at times and all have a good, upbeat attitude. On a couple of evenings at dinner we enjoyed a singer crooning out Sinatra and Dean Martin songs - as far as I'm concerned that was the best entertainment on the ship! It's nice because that's all included in the price of the cruise. The only restaurant we ate at that was extra $$ was the Bonsai sushi place, and that was very good and worth the price. Breakfast was always great - with custom made omelets ate every morning. All in all, the food on the ship was up to par and anything negative was so minor it's not really worth mentioning.
For first-time cruisers - you will get bombarded with photographers, whether you're dining, walking on the ship, or embarking/disembarking the ship. Doesn't cost anything to get them taken, only if you decide to purchase them later. We actually bought quite an extensive package, and are quite happy with the photos. Hey, it's our first cruise. :)
The stops were for the most part were quite enjoyable. The excursions themselves are not cheap (especially if you book through Carnival), but I'm glad we did them. Our first stop, Port Canaveral, FL, was pretty fun. We did the air boat ride through alligator swamp lands. Didn't see much gator action but did see a lot of cows and oxen grazing in the swamps. I'll say this: I felt bad for those who did the Disney World and Universal excursions, which were more than double than what we paid for the air boat ride. They came back drenched after a bad rain storm hit the area, also making their time at those parks even shorter I'm guessing, in addition to the hour-long shuttle rides to/from Orlando. From the reviews I've read of those particular excursions, most seem pretty vocal in stating there's not enough time to do much, especially for the cost, so I don't regret not choosing those.
The next day we were at Nassau and went to the Atlantis resort. I actually had a lot more fun than expected. The water park is quite large with enough to do there for the day, including a hidden beach at one end of the park that we sort of found by accident. No, not the man-made beach in the middle but a real one that was beautiful.
The next day in Freeport we did a jeep excursion which was a lot of fun, and you have to remember to drive on the left side of the road. The sightseeing and stops we did in the jeep convoy were very scenic and worthwhile. The weather was very cooperative for all our excursions, so I am grateful for that. I had read some bad stories about the cruise the week before ours, that the weather was so rough at one of their stops (Half Moon Cay, Bahamas), that they couldn't even get off the ship. In other words, a wasted day. Also that particular cruise is quite a bit more expensive.
About the only 'negative' I can say about the ship is the entertainment was somewhat lacking - they do have "dive-in" movies in the evening by the pool and some comedy acts and bingo in the evenings, and some singers at the bars, but that's about it. My kids were busy with the teen club/activities, so that's a definitely a plus.
All in all, for our first cruise - it was a great family time that we'll always remember and was worth every minute. The week went by so fast and it was kind of sad to get off the ship. But I guess that's how cruises should be, right?