Hi, and welcome to our very first blog post! Make sure you read a little about us first! Thanks for visiting!
The New Jersey Blues
Living in New Jersey is not always the most thrilling, or economical, thing in the world. Pros: lots of family nearby; within two hours of multiple major cities (and their airports); an hour from the ocean; lot of wineries; and snow days. Cons: High cost of living, including high AF property taxes and auto insurance; the ocean isn’t a pretty, clear turquoise blue; traffic; potholes; pension issues (a big deal for public school workers like us); and snow days. Our goal is to move to the Bahamas after we retire… still expensive, but also it’s the BAHAMAS, so…
Sometimes it seems that living in the Garden State is one huge, ultra-taxed disappointment after another. But then, one day about 8 years ago, as we stood on the beach in Cape May one long weekend, trying to will palm trees and calm, blue water and a steel drum band into existence so that we could really feel like we “went somewhere,” I pulled out my phone and started looking up cruises so that I could maybe pull us out of our rut by getting something planned for the near future. Lo and behold… there were cruises to the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Canada available from Baltimore, Bayonne, New Jersey, and New York.
Planning a Cruise on the Carnival Pride
Whaaaaaat? We could get in our car, drive a couple of hours, and get ourselves on a ship to paradise? Suddenly, living in New Jersey was a much more attractive proposition. Before we could say “Fun Ship,” I had us booked on our first ever Carnival cruise, and we were planning a cruise on the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore. We have since been on the Pride two more times since, most recently in August of 2018. She is probably our favorite Carnival ship. Not too big and not too small, and the crew is always AWESOME.
The first time on Carnival Pride, we sailed to Port Canaveral, Nassau, and Freeport. The last two times we went to Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, and Freeport. We have also sailed out of Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, on the more western and southern routes. I feel like we’re going to redo the Southern out of Puerto Rico again so that we can blog all about it; that was one of our favorite cruises ever.
Choosing our Cruise Style
Cruising is like a whole lifestyle in itself, with many ins and outs, spoken and unspoken rules, and experiences to discuss. Stay tuned for more cruise lifestyle posts.
We booked this last Carnival Pride cruise about 3 months before our sailing date in early August, so we had plenty of time to plan out what we wanted to do at each port… which was a bunch of nothing, to be honest. We were tired! I was tired from working all summer, and Gene was tired from… not sure what exactly, because he chose not to work in the interest of his mental and spiritual health… but maybe gardening or mowing the lawn or binge-watching stuff on Netflix. Either way, we were tired, so we decided not to do too much in the way of excursions and activities.
Don’t Miss the Ship!
The night before we were scheduled to embark on the beautiful Carnival Pride, we hung out with Gene’s family to celebrate his brother, Winston’s birthday. We went to Adelphia restaurant in Deptford for dinner and drinks, and then back to Winston’s brand-new house to continue the celebration with wine, snacks, and birthday cake on his decked-out deck. So, we got home a little late. No worries, though… we weren’t scheduled to be at the port for check-in until 11:30, and we knew that we could safely arrive up until 3:00 and not miss the ship.
Usually, when flying into a port to take a cruise, we are dead set on arriving at least one day before the cruise, if not more. There is just too much that can go wrong with flight schedules. Even if the weather is fine where you are and at your destination, bad weather or other events somewhere else in the country could cause a ripple effect that makes you face delayed or canceled flights. Don’t throw a connection into the mix… recipe for disaster and a possibly missed cruise. But, Baltimore is a straight shot from our house in Pennsauken, New Jersey. An hour and a half, two if traffic is iffy, and we have the Pride in our sights.
So, we bade farewell to the family, they wished us safe travels and reminded us to take full advantage of the drink package (as if we needed that reminder), went home and got to bed. Up the next morning at around 8, showered, dressed, packed a couple of last-minute items, checked and re-checked the packing list (you can find my packing list here), turned off and unplugged as much stuff as we could, made sure the ac was turned off and all windows and doors locked tight, and loaded up the car. We were happily on the road by 9:30.
We didn’t hit traffic at all – it’s usually a very easy drive on Sunday mornings, which is the Pride’s turnover day – so we got to Baltimore pretty quickly. This was the first time we had a good wait to even pull into the parking area to unload our luggage with the porters and pay for parking, but we acted silly, taking pictures/videos and rocking out to music.
Checking In for Our Cruise
We finally got through, left our luggage and a $6 tip with a porter, paid our $15-a-day parking fee, and got into a parking spot. From there, it was pretty smooth sailing. Boarding pass and passport check first, because you won’t even get INTO the port terminal without proof that you’re going on this here cruise. Security check. At this point, if you have a bottle of wine or a 12-pack of soda, one of which is allowed per person sailing (adults only for the wine, obviously), you will need to present it and it might get checked to make sure it wasn’t somehow replaced with liquor. We don’t carry on any beverages at all, so we don’t have to bother with this.
Carnival used to allow you to carry on unopened cases of water, and the security lines would be rather held up with sometimes, with inspectors checking each bottle to make sure that none of the water was replaced with a clear spirit of some sort. They have since prohibited bottled water and you can only bring canned soft drinks now; the water is included with the drink package, but if you don’t want the drink package you can pre-order 12-packs of water for a very reasonable price. It will be waiting for you in your stateroom.
Anyway, the people in front of us in the security line we chose had 4 bottles of wine and only 3 adults, so we had to wait a little bit while they sorted out which bottle they were going to leave behind. Past security, you are shown to a check-in station. Here, a very friendly port worker checks your passport, verifies your payment method for your onboard account, takes your picture (at some ports – at others they will just use your passport photo to identify you onboard), and hands over your sign and sail card – again, at some ports, as Carnival is moving towards leaving the sign and sail cards in sealed envelopes in the mailboxes outside of staterooms. People were going to their rooms before they were ready, making life hard for the already-overworked room stewards. I thought the card in the mailbox would be a pain, but the couple of times I’ve been on ships that did that, it was fine. You just use your boarding pass to buy stuff up until you get your actual card.
The Wait to Board
After check-in, port staff escorts to a waiting area, where you have to entertain yourself until you are called to board the ship. Wedding groups, platinum, diamond and suite guests, and people who purchased Faster to the Fun get priority boarding and are usually the first on the ship. I usually buy Faster to the Fun (affectionately known as FTTF) because I don’t like having to lug our carry-ons around the ship until the rooms are ready.
With Faster to the Fun, you get priority boarding, you can go to your room upon boarding, and you also have a dedicated guest services desk and priority tendering at tender ports. Carnival sells it online under excursions, and it sells out really quickly; but, as the ship gets closer to selling out and they know how many priority passengers they will have on board, they’ll open up more slots as they see fit. I happened to snag FTTF about two weeks before this sailing, by compulsively checking the Carnival website at 7:00 every morning.
I guess we waited about 45 minutes until it was time to board. With the Carnival Pride’s home port being Baltimore, the ship always returns to port later than most other ships in other ports, and there are sometimes delays due to weather conditions; after which the whole ship of current passengers has to debark. Patience is key! You’re going on vacation, so just calm your butt. We spent the time contacting family to let them know we had made it to the port safely, surfing on social media, checking email, and leaning against each other for a quick wink of sleep.
Boarding and the Dreaded Guaranteed Room
We stood up with the rest of the priority passengers at the appointed time, shuffled down a large corridor, through a maze of stanchions, and got ourselves “dinged” onto the ramp to board. They scan your card or boarding pass, make sure that the picture that pops up is you, and then off you go, up a winding, glass-enclosed ramp that ends on board the ship. Yay!
We are very familiar with the Pride, having been on her several times; so we knew to avoid the crowds at the lobby and mid-ship elevators and take the stairs down to our aft, oceanview stateroom. When we decided to book this cruise, it was almost sold out and all that were available were guaranteed interior rooms. Basically, Carnival guaranteed you an interior room on the ship, but you would not get your room assignment until the upgrade shuffle was done and they knew what was available for you. You might get a room assignment the next day, or you might get one at the port.
I hated everything about this. I’m a planner and don’t like not knowing. I also have never sailed in an interior room, so I wasn’t sure if I would like it; but I figured we’re not in the room much, and an interior room certainly beat staying in our bedroom in Pennsauken. If you’re anything like me, you may want to start planning a cruise on the Carnival Pride well in advance to avoid this situation.
We got our room assignment the Friday before we sailed, so I was able to print out updated boarding documents and luggage tags before we left. AND, it was an upgrade to an oceanview room. I think we might like oceanview rooms the best, so we were happy to have paid the fare for an interior and gotten an oceanview.
We dropped our carry-ons, checked out the view from our window, and got ready to head upstairs for our first drink and tacos at the wonderful Blue Iguana Cantina. These are seriously some of the best tacos I’ve had outside of Mexico!
Check out our next post for the chronicles of our two sea days. Thanks for reading!