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Carnival Pride arrives in Baltimore

Spent the afternoon touring the Carnival Pride ship - that's the one offering the new year-round cruises from Baltimore to the Bahamas, Florida and the Caribbean. There was a reception in the Butterflies Lounge where a welcoming committee made up of travel agents, city officials, media, tourism folks and state leaders flitted about, including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Baltimore County executive Jim Smith and state transportation Secretary John D. Porcari (of recent Obama fame).

Officials say Carnival's arrival will mean 1,500 jobs and $152 million added to Maryland's economy. We'll take it. As Rep. Elijah Cummings said: "Those jobs were goin to go somewhere. Those cruises were going to take off from somewhere. I'm glad it's Baltimore."

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The ship is decorated with an artsy Renaissance theme - it's all dark and woody with coffered ceilings, elaborate paintings, glass staircases and an 11-deck-high atrium that made me dizzy. There's one deck of the ship that's totally dedicated to lounges and bars - a total of 16 of them. There's a spa, fitness center, huge two-tiered dining room and more. The 88,500-ton ship, while massive, is not the largest Carnival vessel, but it is among the fastest.

Photo: Associated Press

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I talked to a few passengers - the first cruise sails out today at 5:30 p.m. - and they were nearly all giddy with excitement. I was there at lunch hour and the food and drinks were flowing like crazy - so maybe that explains it. Carnival says they serve some 5,000 pounds of chicken, 18,000 shrimp and 13,700 potatoes during a typical one-week cruise. Not to mention the more than 5,000 bottles of wine and champagne.

I met Sunil Kumar, general manager of a local Quality Inn, as he tested the appetizers. "Very good," he said between bites of shrimp and little vegetable purses. His hotel, which provides overnight stays and parking for some cruise passengers, is weathering the economic storm pretty well but he's looking forward to the travel boost from Carnival.

I also met a city school counselor and her retired husband who were celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary with the cruise. Joyce and Samuel McNeill already have plans for another cruise in 2011 to celebrate their 50th. Now, that's the kind of union Baltimore and Carnival are hoping for. One that lasts a long time.

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