It's surprising to note there's only one main restaurant on a ship this big, but the huge stern-situated Normandie Restaurant, with windows on three sides, works surprisingly well. The design, which cantilevers the upper level over most of the lower, somehow manages to effectively baffle the noise of 1,000 passemgers, which can be a real problem in most dining venues of this size. The seating layout -- tables for two, four, six and eight -- utilizes booths and open tables that allow for even the most intimate conversations.
Passengers can either opt for set seating (choices are 6 or 8:15 p.m.) or go with a flexible option (Carnival's "Your Time Dining"). With the flexible choice, passengers can have dinner in the main dining room anytime they like between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (times may vary). Dining assignments -- which you select before the cruise -- are made on a first come, first served basis, so if you have your heart set on one or the other, consider booking earlier rather than later. Breakfast and lunch are open seating .
The food in the Normandie Restaurant is generally very good. There were a variety of menu items ranging from gorge-worthy to spa-simple; ample portions are presented beautifully. Carnival's low-carb menu is popular, and allows a diet-conscious passenger to choose items from the main offerings with potatoes, rice and other starches replaced by vegetables lower in carbohydrates. The low-carb menu basically featured the same meats as the regular menu, but eliminated, for instance, stuffing in the rolled pork, offered an au jus instead of gravy for beef dishes and eliminated starches like rice, potatoes, yams and peas.
As good as the food might be, the main attraction in the dining room is really the conviviality -- the enjoyment of being onboard Pride, the interaction with fellow passengers, and the evening "show" provided by the engaging and outgoing wait staff. Dancing with passengers mid-meal or encouraging the swinging of dinner napkins to the tune of "Tarantella," the waiters, bus staff, maitre d's and even the officers all get into the act.
For a more casual meal, head to the Lido Deck. The entire back half of the Lido Deck is dedicated to food stations or dining tables. There's the Mermaid Grille, which also serves as the casual dinner alternative and the Mermaid Bistro, the ship's buffet-style casual dining option. Instead of having one buffet line, this venue divides the stations into smaller groupings spread around a vast space surrounded with dining tables. It's confusing at the outset, but once you learn which station specializes in what, planning your dining becomes easier.
Hint: To avoid frustration, get your cold food (salads, desserts, drinks, etc.) first, and choose only one hot station at a time; your hot items will remain hot until you find a place to sit.
The stations include a deli specializing in "overstuffed" sandwiches (one of the few down-notes in terms of cuisine, the deli fare was a disappointment); an Oriental wok station with Chinese, Thai or Indonesian-inspired dishes; a grill with hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled steak or chicken breast sandwiches; a traditional "carvery" with roasts and more North American-style fare; a station specializing in items from around the world (we loved the lamb curry served on Indian food day); a 24-hour pizzeria that also serves Caesar salads; and a 24-hour ice cream/frozen yogurt station.
For an exclusive dining event for just 12 guests, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners can attend a multi-course dinner, hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley, led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a nontraditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library.
Room service is available 24 hours a day, but the menu is limited and somewhat boring, with the exception of the excellent Continental breakfast. Ordered the night before with a door-hung card. Later in the day, room service consists of a selection of sandwiches and salads, a dessert of the day, and chocolate cake, cookies and brownies.
Anyone who has enjoyed a meal out in a really fine dining establishment will appreciate the luxury of David's Steakhouse, Carnival Pride's reservations-only alternative dining room located beneath the red glass dome at the top of the atrium. There's a $30 surcharge, which we felt was modest considering the selection, quality, quantity and preparation of the meal we were served.
Low-carb dieters will be ecstatic at the presentation of the 24-ounce Porterhouse; no one would need a potato for "filler." There are large and smaller versions of filet mignon, plus New York strip, lamb, veal, lobster tail and sea bass for main courses. The menu also includes appetizers, soups, salads, and a dessert selection that will make you weep because you're too full to enjoy everything on it. We particularly loved the New England crab cake appetizer, the exquisitely beautiful spinach salad and the lobster tail/filet combo.
Formal attire is required, and appropriate, considering the elegance of the surroundings.
Complimentary espresso, cappuccino and lattes are served in the dining room after a meal; if you want specialty coffees at any other time, the Piazza Cafe on Deck 2 will happily oblige, at a reasonable price.
Decks 2 and 3 form the hub of the ship with a combination of bars, lounges and public areas. Passenger flow is terrific -- the public rooms are connected by a two-level promenade with a grand staircase leading between levels. At the ground level of the Renaissance Atrium on Deck 2 are the guest services and shore tour desks.
Upstairs on Deck 3, the upper part of the Via Vento promenade combines a seating area with the ship's main shopping boulevard. Heading from bow to stern, the sunset garden is a walkway with seating areas and porthole windows. It accesses the stairs leading to the kids' areas one flight up, and is a favorite hangout for teens and tweens. The Wedding Chapel is the location for wedding ceremonies and vow renewals.
Next door to the Wedding Chapel, the Nobel Library/Internet Cafe has a small collection of books and 10 computer terminals, as well as a printer and comfy chairs for reading. Internet packages cost $100 for 250 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes or pay as you go at 75 cents a minute.
Continuing along, the Fun Shops on either side of the walkway sell jewelry and watches, makeup, perfume, liquor, Carnival logo wear and sundries. Formalities is an odd bird -- it's a combination candy shop and formalwear rental shop. The photo gallery surrounds the atrium. In addition to pthoos, priced from $7.99 to $21.99 (based on photo type, not size), they also sell cameras, photo frames and scrapbooking materials. (You can also print out photos from your own digital camera on special machines, again for a fee.) A conference room is located outside the Deco Lounge at the aft end of the deck.
Five self-service launderettes are located on Deck 1 mid-ship, Deck 4 aft, Deck 5 aft, Deck 6 forward and Deck 7 aft. A wash is $3, a dry is $3, and soap and softener are $1 each. We found that pretty pricey for do-it-yourself laundry, but sending out your laundry is more expensive (a midweek special was $15 for a bag). A medical center is located on Deck A.
About 80 percent of Carnival Pride's cabins are outside, and of those, 80 percent offer balconies and a sitting area. The 213 inside cabins measure 185 square feet, pretty generous for standard cabins. Outside cabins measure 220 square feet, while balcony cabins are also 185 square feet with balconies measuring another 35, 60 or 75 square feet, depending on category. Standard balconies featured two metal chairs with plastic mesh seating and a small metal table. Obstructed view cabins located behind the lifeboats on Deck 4 (category 4K) have French doors that open to allow light and air, but have no balcony.
Cabins decor features pleasing peachy-gold brocaded spreads; carpeting of deep brick red; chairs in muted tones of peach and blues; soft, pale neutral-shaded walls; peachy-gold sofas; and cherry-wood cabinetry. Amenities include twin beds that convert to a king; color televisions (not flat-screen) showing Carnival programming, regular TV and both free and pay-per-view movies; a vanity area with drawers, a safe, a hair dryer (in the desk drawer), mini-bar and a phone. Lighting is fantastic. We love the little pointy lamps on the bedside tables, they're so much more appealing than those stuck-to-the-wall reading lights most often found in staterooms. There's a pretty glass freeform light fixture on the mirror opposite the bed; it gives a warm look to the room when it's on, and when it's off it looks like artwork.
Many cabins have either pullout sofas or pull-down beds from the ceiling. There's one 110V and one 220V plug -- bring an extender for more. Closet space is adequate; there are plenty of hangers, but we wished there were more shelf options and/or more drawer space. The only drawers are in the desk area, and there aren't enough of them.
Bathrooms come with shower gel and shampoo in dispensers in the shower, as well as bar soap. A samples basket includes trial sizes supplied by various manufacturers that can change from cruise to cruise (razors, sunblock and the like). Bring your own lotion and cottonballs. The shower has a curtain on a curved rod to avoid the clingy curtain syndrome. The shower head is adjustable and a retractable clothesline is perfect for hanging up wet bathing suits. There's plenty of shelf space in the bathroom for storing toiletries.
Carnival has never emphasized the uber-suites that some big ship lines have embraced but there are options for more spacious accommodations. Suites measure 275 square feet with 65 square foot balconies, and Penthouse Suites measure 345 square feet with 85-square-foot balconies. Suites include separate dressing and sitting areas, double sinks and a bathtub in the bathroom, and large balconies with lounge chairs in addition to the regular chairs and table.
Editor's note: Cabins with connecting doors tend to be noisier, regardless of whether you have the connecting door open or not.
Editor's Note 2: Some of the extended balconies are positioned directly under standard balconies -- this leaves them exposed to a view from above. If it's privacy you desire, avoid those. And note: Not all balconies are created equal. There are several staterooms that, because of internal ship architecture, have longer-than-usual outdoor spaces, some of which are not discernable by viewing the deck plans that Carnival provides. Even with the extra balcony space, these rooms retain the pricing of their level and can be a great bargain. Look for 5236, 5238 and 5245 on Upper Deck, 6232, 6234 and 6281 on Empress Deck, 7258, 7260 and 7303 on Veranda Deck, and 8232, 8234 and 8309 on Panorama Deck.
Cabins 6112 and 6115 at the bow have double-length balconies, but the outcropping at the forward bulkhead, the bridge wing right above them and the louvered venting that angles up the forward end of the balcony itself create a wind-tunnel effect that makes the space almost impossible to enjoy while at sea. They are also adjoining rooms, so you get no sofa and lots of noise from the next cabin.
Mostly rowdy, raucous, and ready for a good time, Pride passengers actively participate in this huge seagoing party. We met physicians, corporate attorneys, housewives, teachers and captains of industry, all of whom knew they had a week to cut loose and be silly before resuming their normal lives. We met families who played together, older folks who danced until the wee hours and college students freed from the rigors of classes. No single demographic defines the guests on this ship, except that they are all people who enjoy an outrageously good time and choose Carnival Pride because there is also an element of elegance.
Where can you find the artwork of Raphael, da Vinci, Botticelli, and Michelangelo, and the architectural details of ancient Greece, Byzantine empires, Renaissance Italy, Beaux Arts France and Victorian England all under the same roof? Perhaps in the great museums of the world -- the Smithsonian, the Bilbao Guggenheim, the Metropolitan -- but also, most definitely, in the public spaces aboard Carnival Pride.
Long, narrow, sleek as a knife and very fast, the 2,124-passenger Carnival Pride, launched in 2002, is the second ship in the cruise line's Spirit class. Carnival's long-time interior designer, Joe Farcus, chose Icons of Beauty as the ship's theme: beauty in life, beauty in art, beauty in the world's architecture, beauty in the human body and in the human spirit.
At 963 feet, with 1,062 passenger cabins, 11 bars and lounges, 4 pools and 5 hot tubs, this ship was made for active participation. Carnival's passengers come onboard knowing that they will have access to 24-hour partying, food and entertainment. A large and well-equipped kids' center, Camp Carnival's Fun Club, is one of the line's signature features, luring families with kids of all ages: Everyone gets to play.
There must be something in the water on this ship, because we have yet to meet a more accommodating, cheerful and outgoing crew. Everyone, from the harried Purser's Desk staff to the dining room and bar servers to the hardworking room stewards, expressed a sort of unfettered joy for being available to serve Pride passengers. Officers were accessible and engaging, and the general atmosphere was uncompromisingly upbeat.
A guest on Carnival Pride could sit in one spot during the length of the cruise and get more entertainment than is to be found on the Las Vegas strip. We were really impressed with the quality of the singers, bands and production shows, and marvel at the creativity of the cruise director's staff.
The Taj Mahal Theatre, the ship's main show lounge, is a state-of-the-art venue in which elaborate production shows take place. Some of the support posts interfere with sightlines, but with three floors of seating space, finding an unobstructed view isn't too difficult.
Pride's many bars and lounges have individual entertainment, whether a jazz trio (as in the Raphael Lounge), a country singer (as in the casino bar), or a cool and funny pianist (in the Ivory Piano Bar). The pools on Lido Deck have their own sets of entertainers: a Calypso band for the Venus pool area, a DJ for the Poseidon pool at the very aft. All of them are very good, and add substantially to the cruise experience.
But, when it comes to entertainment, nothing can compete with the ingenious shenanigans of the cruise director's staff, and the games and activities they devise to keep the ship hopping. There are the usual, of course -- Newlywed game, trivia contests and the like -- but then the creativity begins. Scavenger hunts, pub crawls, pool games that entail stuffing items in bathing suits or relays that require wiggling with balloons between legs, and of course the Men's Hairy Chest Contest (there isn't one for women). Those who don't choose to participate certainly have a great time cheering from the sidelines, but the level of participation is surprising and reaches across all ages. The Hairy Chest winner on our cruise was a 53-year-old electrician from northern California, who clinched the title with his flawless rendition of a Tarzan yell.
There is also an enormous casino with every imaginable table game and slot machine; dance classes, bingo, and art auctions; talent shows for both the adult guests and the kids (in Camp Carnival); dances in the evening either on the aft end of Lido Deck or in one or more of the clubs inside; and one of the best ideas yet -- a teens-only dance several times during the week, 12 - 17 only, adults not allowed.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The central pool, Apollo, is used for a variety of games and activities designed by the cruise director's staff. The forward pool, Venus, is quiet, perfect for lazing around when the weather is good. The adults-only Serenity Deck, located on the stern, features the ship's third pool.
The fourth swimming pool, the one for kids, is located on the Sun Deck above the Lido Deck; it has a two-deck-high twisty waterslide slide and is active, splashy and rowdy. Plenty of adult "kids" enjoy the slide, so the pool has a nice mix of ages and is not solely limited to youngsters.
All of the swimming pools have adjacent whirlpools that are large and tend to be quite sociable.
Spa Carnival, located all the way forward on Deck 9, comprises two levels, with a fully equipped, two-deck-high gymnasium surrounded by glass walls overlooking the bow; an interior hydrotherapy pool; an aerobics studio for classes and workouts (Pilates, yoga and individual instruction carry a slight extra charge); complimentary steam and sauna rooms for Pride guests; and locker rooms and showers.
Hint: The showers in the staterooms are spacious enough, but for a real treat, enjoy the glass-enclosed multi-jet showers in the gym after your workout or sauna. There's a nice rainhead above, and four side showerheads that make you feel as though you are getting a free massage.
A salon for hair and nails, the Look, is located on Deck 9, and a full-service spa. The Body Beautiful, operated by Steiner of London, offers treatments ranging from facials to deep-tissue massages. The spa treatment rooms are just aft of the gym; there is an exterior promenade adjacent to the rooms on Deck 9, aerobics studio above them on Deck Ten, and jogging track on Deck 11 -- all of which can create some nerve-jangling if you're trying to relax with a nice massage while joggers or aerobicizers are thunking in sneakers above you or along the side of the ship.
The Spa has a Greek theme but the treatment rooms have gone to a more South Asian decor. Pretty batiks and dark fabrics drape the treatment tables while Balinese bells and scented candles soothe the soul. The more popular treatments also have an Asian touch: hot stone massages, for example, or Shiatsu. One of the best values we found was the scalp, neck and shoulders massage -- very reasonably priced. Other therapies seemed expensive, but are "sale priced" on port days. Look for specials in the daily Carnival Capers, and if you want a hair or nail appointment for formal nights, make sure you book early, as these are almost impossible to get after the first day.
Duffers who want to keep up with their game can use the golf cage on Deck 11 aft.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
This is a Fun Ship was created with families in mind. No child, of any age, could get bored on Carnival Pride, and the level of care provided allows Mom and Dad the freedom to relax and enjoy their vacations as well.
Children ages 2 - 11 (broken down into 2 to 5's, 6 to 8's and 9 to 11's) can participate in age-appropriate activities in one or more of the special rooms available as part of Camp Carnival. Well-trained, security-minded staffers keep an eagle eye on the younger children while they engage in activities ranging from candy making to finger painting, enjoy play time with a large selection of toys and blocks, or watch the kid-rated videos available in the Club. Older children can utilize the video games and computer stations, and even wander down one level to the video arcade for some hard-charging gaming action.
Gratis Camp Carnival activities are offered until 10 p.m., after which point the Night Owls programs kicks into gear. There are two elements to Night Owls. First, Late-night babysitting is available from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. for a fee ($6 for the first child and $4 for each additional child in the same family). Pillows and blankets (and cribs for the littlest tykes) are provided when kids get sleepy. Second, there are special late-night parties, broken down by age, held three times per cruise. It's a flat fee to attend each party and kids get some goodies (flashlights, nightlights, lunch bags, etc.) out of the deal. Check the Capers for details.
Circle C, the dedicated space for tweens (12 to 14), is located all the way forward on Deck 4. The lounge features game consoles and a dance floor, and supervised activities include games like charades and Apple to Apples, themed dance parties, and sports competitions. Next door, a video arcade is open to kids and adults alike, but many adults never find it.
The teen space, Club O2 (15 - 17), is situated next to the gym on Deck 10. TV's for movie-watching and video-game play, as well as a dance area and a "mocktail" bar serving up sodas and non-alcoholic smoothies and fruit drinks. Teen activities include movie trivia, Guitar Hero rock-offs, hot tub hangouts and late-night parties.
Babies and toddlers ages six months to two years cannot participate in Camp Carnival activities, but do have additional babysitting hours (fees apply) on port days, with hours varying from port to port. On sea days, parents can drop toddlers off from noon to 2 p.m. for a fee, or use the facilities for parent-child playtime for no extra charge. The regular late-night babysitting is available to under-2's as well. Camp Carnival counselors do change diapers.
Kids who are not toilet trained are not technically allowed in the main swimming pools, though we did see a couple of families breaking that rule. A children's wading pool is located on Deck 11 by the waterslide.
Children's menus are featured in the main dining room and kids ages 2 to 11 can dine with the counselors on the Lido Deck most nights. A Fountain Fun card, good for unlimited soft drinks, costs $36.75 for eight-day voyages (adults can also choose a soda package for $50.50).
Anything goes in the public spaces, but shorts or tank tops are not permitted in the dining room. There are two formal nights on a seven-night cruise; quite a few passengers dress up.
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