Late last year, we booked a nice balcony on the Diamond Princess, its second voyage out of San Pedro. Looked forward to the trip, made plans, bought things to take and counted the days. A week before our trip, we went down to the docks and watched the Diamond move down the channel amid the spray of a fire boat's main monitor shooting hundreds of feet in the air. Two days later, my wife was admitted to the hospital for almost a week. BUY THE TRAVEL INSURANCE. Enough of what was and didn't.
About 30 days before our next vacation, we decide to give it another try. We try to get something on the Diamond Princess, the last week in September, but find the ship is sold out with a wait list. We check out Carnival and find the Pride sails out the day after the Diamond, September 26Th. I find that not only are there staterooms available. There are a LOT of staterooms. Looking at the deck plans, we find an unusual cabin that's available. More on that cabin later. We put an offer out on the net for T/A's and get six responses. Three days later we are booked and due to the time frame, pay in full and GET the travel insurance. Two weeks later, our tickets are mailed to us, direct from the cruise line.
We're running late and don't leave the house until 1:30. Three bags to be checked in and two carry ons. Get to the pier in about 20 minutes and arrive at the Carnival cruise center. I'm feeling great, already in cruising mode. We drive around the four story parking structures that blocks your view of the cruise center. As we turn a corner, I'm wondering why there are so many people here to go on the Queen Mary tour on a Sunday afternoon. I'm sure I sat there for a couple on seconds with my mouth hanging open. A line of people from the cruise building, snaking back and forth into the distance out of sight. A rep from Carnival is finally spotted, indicating that the end of the line was. Hundreds upon hundreds of people inch along as one by one they enter the cruise building. Fifty five minutes later, we finally get to the door. And big surprise, the line continues for the security check. My vacation mode had long vanished. It either disappeared when I was hit for the sixth time by a carry on bags or the fifth time the woman in front of me whipped her head, flipping her hair into my face. In any event, I am not a happy camper. After security, we are directed to the check in area.
I'm sorry, but I must stop here. For anyone who does not know, Carnival had been using the Los Angeles cruise center out of San Pedro. I assume Long Beach made them an offer and they took it.
Many years ago, the city of Long Beach bought the original Queen Mary and made a tourist attraction out of it, well, that was the idea anyway. Year after year, the "attraction" lost money, the city planners got together and hatched a plan. The "Spruce Goose", the world's largest airplane ever to fly, is up for sale. Let's buy it and build a hanger next to the Queen Mary, what a concept, we'll make millions. And so a hanger was constructed for the massive plane, 150% larger than what a 747 would need. After much yelling and hand wringing, a giant dome was built and the world's largest plane was put on display. The city fathers then waited for the crowds, and waited they did. Years later they admitted the error in their ways and sold the plane to the highest bidder and closed the dome. Years later, Carnival takes over and converts the dome to a cruise center.
You now have a section of one of the nation's largest single story buildings being used to check in people getting on a boat. I am excepting something high tech or at least a continuation of the single line where the next available representative take care of you. No such luck, once through security, you must decide which of eighteen lines to get into. Just like the grocery store, some lines are quick and some lines people die from old age. I'm guessing our line was average, taking about 25 minutes. There were about five groups of people in our line that were processed. The line to our right hadn't moved at all. As we got closer to the check in counter, my blood pressure went up 20 points. It appeared there were tip jars in front of each and every Carnival employee. It was not until we moved closer that I could see that they were in fact collecting money for the United Way. Wait some more and finally get to the counter. I mention the long lines to a Carnival employee and venture that things would move faster if everyone pre-registered before getting to the docks. I am told all but around 200 pax have done their paperwork before showing up. Sign some cards and we are sent on to the next step. Get our photo taken with a phony Mexican back drop. It's easier to pose for three seconds than explain to some photographer you want nothing to do with a photo the reminds you of this horrendous line. We then walk eight feet to an escalator where a security guard wants to look at our tickets. There still in my hand, no problem. However, at the top of the escalator, another security guard wants to see the tickets again. No problem, dig them out of the bag where I had put then four seconds ago. A quick glance and we are passed onto the next guard. Not to be fooled again, I keep the tickets in hand. And a good thing to, in the last 100 feet, we have to show the tickets to four more people, each doing a different job.
I'm sorry, Carnival has been doing this for how many years where they have been forced to use other peoples facilities. They had a totally empty building to start with and this was the best they could do. It took us just under two hours to pass through a metal detector, have someone look at our identification, swipe a credit card and get our picture taken. The two times we had gone through the Los Angeles Cruise center, it had taken 20 and 30 five minutes respectively. Bad design, poor planning and a general malaise by the employees left a bad taste in my mouth as we finally exited the dome and headed for the ship. Another ship photographer snaps away along the gangway, but here the smiles are real as the finish line, the ship, is in view.
The pride appears a bit smaller that some other super liners that we have seen, but it looks clean and well maintained. The first thing I notice is the decking is real wood, not some plastic material made to last 300 years. We enter the ship and start by heading aft, towards our stateroom. I'm struck by how dim it appears inside the ship. Slightly smoked glass, burnished copper and bronze everywhere, overblown dark copies of old masters on walls ceilings and elevators, dark mirrors and dim lighting give this overall effect. I also immediately notice the great number of chairs and booths in all the common areas. Row after row of identical seating for a hundred feet Identical lamps between the chairs with muted coloring seams to suck the life out of you just by walking through an area. I later find out that most of these chairs and booths are many years old from other ships. In fact the seats have been reupholstered and the backs are now starting to fall apart. The atrium is a design highlight. Open from deck 2 up to a skylight in the roof the 11Th deck, a vast open space that has no purpose on a ship except to make you look up and say "WOW". Another little quirk is at the top of the atrium. Between deck 9 and 10 decks is a curved acrylic staircase. This allows people to get from the Lido deck up into David's Supper Club, the "our food is good but if you pay extra it's better" alternative dinning room. Anyway, going up is no problem. When you walk down, you are looking at your feet. Since the stairs are clear plastic, your mind is saying you have no business being eight stories with nothing but air under you.
All in all the ship appears to be clean and workers are seen daily keeping things tidy and maintained inside and out. However, after 7 days you start to see things. Paint peeling, rust spots, small tears in upholstery and burned out light bulbs not replaced.
This is the first time we have requested a particular stateroom. Towards the rear of the ship, there are three tenders on each side. These are set in so that the outside of the tenders are flush withe the hull. In this area, you will find three or four staterooms that are configured differently than the rest of the ship. I had originally eyed 8260, but hesitated and someone else booked it. Anyway, this particular stateroom (7260) is turned sideways. From the door, it's only 12 feet deep, and 12 wide excluding the closet area and bathroom. The head of the queen bed is against the hallway wall and the vanity, TV, refrigerator unit is along the outside wall, But here is where it gets interesting. This stateroom is designated for a wheelchair (the original pick 8260 was not "handicapped"). It was booked with the understanding we could be bumped should someone with a wheelchair wanted on board. The entry door is a full 36" wide and the bathroom is huge by cruise line standards, 8' by 8' without a step over but a built in ramp in front of the door. No shower stall, just a floor drain. The area by the closet is another 4' by 4' area with the swinging door to the balcony. I am guessing the room is about 224 square feet. And now for the bonus. Because of where this cabin is, the balcony is "extended". Instead of the standard 4' depth, this balcony is 6' deep. In addition, because of a steward's housekeeping room being close, our balcony is a full 26' wide, three balconies worth. Another 156 square feet with three lounge chairs, a recliner, a straight back chair and a table. The door also can be opened all the way and does not close. The exterior light switch operates three full length flourescent fixtures, very bright. Just under 400 square feet and were using every inch.
Drawbacks to this room. The carpet has a very smooth and hard, gee maybe that has something to do with the wheelchair access? Anyway we have both slipped in front of the bathroom because of the incline to make up for the lack of a step over. No real injury, but a glass of water went flying and I bashed my shoulder into the door frame. As stated, there is a floor drain in the bathroom that works great when things are still and level. HOWEVER, go to sea with just a 3 degree pitch and water is rolling wall to wall.. As we enter or leave, other pax passing by want to look inside because of the strange configuration.
Even though the room is large, I can only get to one electrical outlet. There might be one behind the bed, but I don't feel the need to find out. It would also appear that both the television and refrigerator are 220 volts. Even if I could get to these outlets, it would do no good. So the trusty power strip is used and batteries for cameras and laptop will be recharged during the trip. The hair dryer is found in the top drawer of the desk, have no idea how it's connected.
IN ROOM TV
In short, horrible. CBS, NBC, ABC and two movie channel (showing airline edited films)all the time. Quality not that good, but then were on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. The other channels are loaded with lightly camouflaged info commercials to buy anything and everything Carnival can think of. But then you can buy any number of in room movies. There is rumor that they will be getting direct TV in the near future. By the way, there is no way to attach any device to this TV. Only input is the standard coax on the back side that you can't reach.
IN ROOM REFRIGERATOR
This is a mini bar, just another way to get your money. You have to ask at the purser's desk to have it locked. My wife takes medicine that must be refrigerated. We asked the steward if he could empty the mini bar for us, but was unable to do so. Our choices are locked or unlocked. In addition, refrigerator
is a misnomer, cooler is more apt.
In seven days, never saw a frown on any worker while on Carnival. Everyone was up beat and happy. By the second day we knew our room steward, Elias, was a professional and deserving of extra recognition. As is our custom, we tip ahead of time in the form of a phone card. Don't know if it mattered, but from that day on, we found different "towel animals" upon returning to the room after dinner.
AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR
As I said, most of the programs on the TV are ads to buy from Carnival or businesses Carnival suggests. The announcements over the PA are about 5% information. The rest is a sales pitch to buy tickets, play bingo, go to the casino, buy drinks, go to the art auction, go to the spa etc. etc.. There are at least four of these a day lasting up to ten minutes.
It feels like there are salesmen all over the common areas selling jewelry, future cruises and speciality food items. On other cruise lines, these people are there, but you have to seek them out. On this ship, they stand by their cubicle or desk, thrusting ads at any passerby.
What we have not seen are the over bearing drink runners. At one "show" the band leader had someone make a phone call to get service people into the room. Four showed up to take care of the entire showroom.
During the day, the usual trivia, bingo and scavenger hunts are to be found. We even stumbled upon an art class in one of the aft bars. As expected, the cruise director is over the top whenever he has a microphone and does have to struggle to get pax up and running at any deck event. Seams most of the people would rather sit in the sun and be left alone. There is a take off on the "Survivor" TV show. 8 idiots volunteer for a two day event to win some piece of junk prize. I get second place and get a plastic ship after eating a hamburger with sardines and a half cup of relish. There are various musicians performing throughout the day about the ship. Some very good, some O.K. and one or two you think are drunk passenger who wandered on stage. We found one young man in a piano bar who's act I thought was to play music to one song while singing something totally different. The "Vegas" style shows consists of a cast of 16 with a main male and female singer backed by 14 dancers. There is a live orchestra who start the show with live music, but at some point "canned" music takes over. For the most part, the main vocals were real, but the back up singers and some solos were on tape. For being on a ship, the production was very good.
On the last two nights, there was a standup comedian "Jerome" who was very good. Unfortunately, a second act appeared the last night. A ventriloquist who thought he was headliner , went on for about 30 minutes, ignoring the people walking out.
Along with the standard casino (as of this moment we are about $60 ahead) and Bingo (only fools play this game-but then I won on a $200 card), Carnival has come up with a new twist. A lottery for a 7 day cruise. $5 a ticket, three for $10. This one may be a real money maker for the line. They have been pushing it for six days.
On this cruise, a private company brought several dealers and rented out one of the smaller rooms. They held three sessions of Hod"em Poker. They can be contacted at www.USCardplayer.com to see which ships they will be on in the future. I lasted two hours.
The quality is excellent through out the ship. Some portions are a bit small, but then I prefer quality over quantity, and you can always get more if you want. We try a little bit of everything, except the sushi, just how fresh is that fish if it's your third day at sea? I do note that there is a great deal of waste up on the Lido deck where the buffet lines are. For some reason, certain people take great mounds of food only to leave then to be thrown away. None of my business except everyone's ticket price is increased to make up for this kind of waste.
Service can be slow at time in the main dinning room, but that is to be expected. We are at a table of 8 and our companions are nice enough, thou it's an effort to keep the conversation up and running.
We attempted to get reservations at "David"s" the upscale restaurant. We waited to long, 17 hours after getting onboard and the night we wanted was booked up. Oh well, there's always the Lido deck.
Our only experience with room service is the "continental" breakfast. Stock items at the steward's station like cereal, bagels, juice and coffee.
On the third day at sea we are contacted by David's and told there has been a cancellation and there is an opening at 8:30. Not only is this the day we wanted, but within 30 minutes of what we were going to request. As it is written in the paperwork, I don a sports coat and slacks and we climb the dreaded clear staircase from the 9Th level. David's takes up the 10Th and 11Th floors in front of the smoke funnel and is topped by a very large sky light that lets the sun fill the atrium. I am first hit by the lack of people. We are put at a table on the port side with a party of four, a couple and a table of six. There are at least 24 empty chairs when we arrive and the party of four departs with in 10 minutes. There is no explanation as to why they're over booked with empty tables everywhere.
Although the quality of the food is a little better here, the emphasis is on service. Our waiter gives a five minute soliloquy of what is on the menu. The emphasis is on presentation, fine china and crystal stem ware and the silver is changed with each course. Everyone is given a complimentary hors d'oeuvre. I get a bowl of tomato soup. Although the bowl is so small, it might hold 3 tablespoons, it takes me ten minutes to eat. The spoon looks like it's from a doll set, about an two inches long. My wife's dessert shows up with a 12" hand made hard candy "spike" attached to the plate. A two hour experience worth the extra money.
Room service is very fast, but the in room menu is very limited.
The main dinging room menu has four or five "starters", two salads, five or six entries and about twenty desserts.
After the second night, I gave up counting the shorts and T-shirts in the main dinning room. Even in the up scale David's I saw men in shirt sleeves. Swimsuits in the buffet line, swimsuits in the casino, swimsuits running in the hallway and kids dripping wet in the marbled floored elevators leaving large puddles.
ABOUT THE KIDS
Because of the line at the cruise center, we knew that there were more kids on this cruise than on Princess, but barely so we were not concerned. Once onboard however, it seamed they were everywhere. There is some sort of children's program on board, but it seams few were enrolled. There is a constant stream of kids in the common areas morning to night. In addition, there were many families that insisted in bringing children and strollers, I don't care, but quit hitting my feet with the damn things.
PV-knowing in advance of the weather conditions, we book a sunset sail. As it turned out, the weather was worse, 98 degrees with 95% humidity. We stayed on the ship and enjoyed the air conditioning, but I ran over to Wal-Mart looking for a spare battery for my new camera. At about 5, we went own to the dock and the conditions were much better. Once we got out onto the water it was great. An open bar and food with a cooling showers followed by a sunset and a short sail, very nice.
Mazatlan-an all day bus trip into the hills East of the city. Stopped to watch some furniture being handmade and a nice lunch after a short walk into a small town. I am very glad the bus is air conditioned. At the end there was a stop for shopping in the "Golden Zone".
Cabo San Lucas-woke up to the constant PA going on about getting a ticket to get on the tenders. Looking out, I can't understand why there's a waiting line with all the tenders heading for the docks. Only after getting topside do I realize we are not alone in the harbor. A Holland America ship is in the distance and the "Sun Princess" is next to us. We go into town and have a couple of drinks, but return to the ship within a couple of hours. To many people for such a small area. The other times we were here, the water was green, cloudy and cool. Today it is warm and the waters are a clear blue. From the 7Th deck o the ship we can see many feet into the water All to soon the anchor is raised and we head out of the bay and turn North. Because the Pride can cruise up to 23 knots, we do not leave until 4:00PM and cruise at a higher speed than other ships on this route and reach Long Beach in 39 hours. The last night, we pass the Diamond going South.
I have retired my $1.78 thrift store dark suit and have enlisted a $15.00 thrift store Perry Ellis suit. On this cruise I have found about 75% of the men are in suits, 20% are in tuxedos. The other 5% are in sport shirts and appear in the dinning room anyway.
We are allowed until midnight to get bags in the hallway, very civilized. In the morning, were in
Long Beach and must deal with the cruise center again.
Other than the first half day, this cruise was enjoyable. This cruise line was booked do to time frame only. Looking at this as far as value to dollars spent, I feel Princess still a better deal.