Seas of change on the Carnival Pride

Carnival returns to Baltimore with a new look.

Carnival Pride makes its return to Baltimore at the end of this month, sailing back to Charm City from Tampa, Fla., with a boatload of upgrades.

Not the least of which is new pollution-control technology called "scrubbers" that will solve the environmental issue that almost had the cruise line pulling out of the port of Baltimore permanently.

Alas, the ship spent a short stay in dry dock in October for a multimillion-dollar face-lift and then wintered in Florida, not a bad idea for anyone.

When it saddles up to the port of Baltimore on March 29, the Pride will have several new dining and entertainment features, including an eatery developed with the Food Network's celebrity chef Guy Fieri, three new bars and a full-service sushi restaurant.

"We're very excited about coming back to Baltimore," said Terry Thornton, Carnival's senior vice president of fleet deployment and port operations. "It was really kind of an unfortunate situation that we left and it had nothing to do with Baltimore — it's a great market for us."

Cindy Burman, port of Baltimore cruise marketing manager, said Carnival's return is indeed welcome since some travelers were alarmed when they heard the ship might not return because it couldn't meet increased federal emissions standards.

"People were saying cruising is going away. No more cruises out of Baltimore," said Burman. "The consumers were a little bit mixed up."

Carnival, having righted the ship for local cruisegoers who enjoy the line's brand of fun at sea, is ready to show off its upgraded amenities. Along with the new restaurants and destinations, the ship also offers a new water-themed park with a water slide that the cruise line claims is the steepest and fastest at sea.

"When [the ship] comes back, there will be a lot of new things," Thornton said. "We put in a lot of new innovations."

The ship also will have a new itinerary of extended cruises to the Caribbean, part of Carnival's effort to change things up in a desire to see even more cruise passengers come onboard.

Carnival will continue its seven-day sailings from Baltimore to the Bahamas and the eastern Caribbean, and will add a number of cruises with special itineraries, including a series of 10- to 14-day trips between Baltimore and San Juan, Puerto Rico, with ports of call that include an exotic array of Caribbean destinations.

The Pride's first cruise this month is a 14-day trip, sailing to "unbelievable good places, including Aruba [and] Curacao," said Thornton. "In Baltimore, because we had been there for a long time, we thought this would give us a chance to try some new things and to offer some new options."

While some 120,000 passengers sailed on the Carnival Pride last year, the cruise line still sees room for growth. With the Baltimore port so easily accessible by car, Carnival considers its target market within a five-hour drive — with a "massive" number of potential cruisegoers still untapped.

The ship, which was just named best cruise from the northeast by online travel site Cruise Critic, will be making calls at Caribbean ports that include St. Thomas, Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Bonaire and St. Croix for some of the newly offered sailings.

"Maybe some of those itineraries will attract people who haven't been on Carnival before," Thornton said.

Burman agrees that there are plenty of customers to be reached and said the port of Baltimore is uniquely aligned to help both Carnival and Royal Caribbean, which operates the Grandeur of the Seas year-round, capture their attention.

"We probably only tap into about 10 percent of the market — not just in Baltimore, but overall," she said. "We're in an excellent market. We're in a very lucrative market."

The port often hears from cruise guests about the ease of reaching the ships and how much they enjoyed visiting Baltimore either before or after a sailing, Burman said.

"They love it," she said. "You drive right down 95 — how much easier could it be?"

One change aboard the Pride that everyone might not love is a new ban on smoking while on cabin balconies, a policy that several ships have adopted and that Carnival put in place last fall. About 60 percent of rooms on the Pride have private balconies.

"This was really something that we thought long and hard about," Thornton said. "We don't want to exclude the smokers from cruises, but there is so much interest in a smoke-free environment."

If you go

Carnival Pride

Here's a look at highlights of what's new aboard the ship after last fall's renovations.

Alchemy Bar Carnival calls it a "vintage-themed cocktail pharmacy" helmed by mixologists creating custom drinks and elixirs.

BlueIguana Cantina Free Mexican eatery offering tacos, burritos and more right at poolside.

Bonsai Sushi Full-service restaurant serving Asian specialties, including sushi, sashimi, rolls and more.

RedFrog Pub Celebrates the Caribbean's rum and beer alongside island-inspired pub fare.

EA Sports Bar Features live sporting events, real-time scores and a 16-screen video wall.

Guy's Burger Joint Hand-crafted burgers and fresh-cut fries as inspired by celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

WaterWorks A water splash park with a twist of slides, including Green Thunder, which offers a fast and steep ride.

Hasbro, The Game Show Entertaining life-sized versions of your favorite childhood games.

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