Newer Mega-Ship in L.A. Area

Western agents are filling up the Carnival Pride's weekly Mexican Riviera cruises

By: Harry Basch

For years at give-and-take sessions with Carnival Cruise Lines’ President Bob Dickinson, agents have asked when Carnival was going to put a mega-ship on the West Coast. Dickinson’s reply was always something like, “When you can fill it.”

Apparently, he thinks agents are up to the task now, because Carnival has deployed the 88,500-ton Carnival Pride in Long Beach, Calif., year-round.

The Pride, just two years old, operates seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises departing every Sunday.

This itinerary starts off with two days at sea, then calls at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. Another day at sea offers a chance to rest up before concluding at Long Beach.

Somebody out there must be doing something right because my Nov. 2 cruise carried 2,300 passengers, well above the double-occupancy capacity of 2,124.

And surprisingly, it never seemed overcrowded except at embarkation, which was well organized but still took time. Perhaps Carnival’s new online pre-boarding system will help alleviate this (see sidebar).

The ship, which replaced the Elation and joins the short-cruise Ecstasy, is a welcome addition to the West Coast. (The Ecstasy will be replaced by the Paradise in October; see story, page 32.)

The Pride still has the shiny veneer of a new ship, and the staff and crew have settled into their routine so the service is swift, friendly and relaxed.

Needless to say, on a Carnival cruise there is always something to do. The shore excursions range from the usual city tours ($27) to exotic adventures such as off-road biking ($39), countryside sightseeing on horseback ($49), and swimming with dolphins ($149).

A new adventure allows passengers to travel by rope from platform to platform through the jungle like Tarzan or George of the Jungle ($99). There are also lots of swimming, sailing and snorkeling tours.

Daytime activities center around the three swimming pools one has a retractable roof in case of inclement weather.

Your clients can also expect the usual onboard revenue-generating activities: bingo, casino gambling, art auctions, photo sessions, spa treatments and, of course, the numerous bars throughout the ship.

However, there was none of the heavy-handed hustling that occurs on some lines. Carnival does protect its bar revenue by confiscating any alcohol at check-in and returning it at disembarkation.

The atmosphere on these West Coast sailings is quite different from Caribbean cruises, primarily because of the greater variety of ages, ranging from 2 to 82, all mixing well and very laid back.

Even on the two formal nights, about 40 percent of the men wore tuxedos and almost every woman was dressed to the nines.

And these are not first-time cruisers. A repeaters’ party filled the main floor of the Taj Mahal showroom with records of numerous Carnival cruises to their credit.

My cruise carried about 200 children, and the team of supervisors in the Camp Carnival program kept them so occupied that they were never running around the deck or underfoot. A special time for teens only in the disco ran until 11:30 p.m. every night, when it was then turned over to the adults.

All staterooms feature hair dryers, safes, stocked mini-fridges (you pay for what you use), bathrobes, beach towels, TV sets, a bowl of freebie amenities in the bathroom and showers. Suites also have tubs and VCRs.

The 624 oceanview with balcony cabins have good closet space, twin beds convertible to queen, sofa, coffee table and desk/vanity and room to move about.

Carnival’s designer, Joe Farcus, always has a theme to some of the most imaginative interior designs at sea. The theme for the Pride is Icons of Beauty, so it features renderings of classic architecture, artistic masterpieces, the human body and athletic achievement.

The Raphael Lounge features reproductions of his masterpieces. Starry Night is the jazz club with replicas of Van Gogh’s painting of the same name. The piano bar, called the Ivory Bar, has miniature ivory figures and Japanese ivory carvings decorating the bar. The Nobel Library, named for Alfred, has a limited number of books but acts as the Internet cafe, where you can log on at 75 cents a minute.

Dining aboard is better than ever. The Normandie Restaurant is a large airy room that is modeled after the dining room of the famed transatlantic liner. There are two seatings (6:15 and 8:15) and menus are varied and well executed.

The casual Mermaid Grill does away with the usual two buffet lines and instead has several small serving areas that serve deli sandwiches to order, Asian food, a salad bar, a carvery, a 24-hour pizzeria and a station that changes cuisine daily. The end result is shorter lines.

The main alternative dining area is David’s Supper Club, which is dominated by a life-size replica of you-know-who Michelangelo’s famous statue. The menu has changed and now has Alaskan crab claws, a surf-and-turf of lobster tail and steak, a 14-ounce porterhouse, chops, chicken and sea bass. The surcharge is $25, and reservations are required. Give yourself plenty of time for the meal and eat lightly that day.

Now, all that’s needed is to fill those 1,062 cabins every week.