Cruising without fuss from Baltimore to the Bahamas

The Carnival Pride is the first ever cruise ship to be based year-round in Baltimore.
The Carnival Pride is the first ever cruise ship to be based year-round in Baltimore. (Andy Newman)
By Margaret Engel
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Okay, my mother and I are now converts.

We don't come from a family of cruise people. We grew up firmly in the church of Long Car Trips. Famously long, as in the annual family 27-hour drive (one-way) to the upper reaches of Canada with seven of us plus the bananas from home, now rotting, in the Chevy station wagon. "Cruise" to us meant bad floor shows, silly games by cruise directors and overeating.

But my mother is now 88 and recovering from a right knee replacement. She's using a walker. Logistics trump tradition.

This equation brought us to the Port of Baltimore. Specifically to its cruise terminal, to try out a sailing on its new year-round schedule.

The appeal of sailing to warm weather in winter, with no airport hassle and just a 40-minute car trip, was enticing. We wanted some mother-daughter time and didn't want to keep lugging suitcases, have to repack or constantly re-navigate the entrance to new attractions and restaurants. We just wanted to read and enjoy some warm weather without aggravation.

In the past, the rare times when we've vacationed (separately) on the water, we've left from Miami or Seattle. But in the past decade, ships have been brought to passengers, with more than 20 ports nationwide handling ocean liners. Baltimore is now Carnival Cruise Lines' most northern U.S. port offering year-round cruises; 92 voyages are scheduled for the coming year.

We chose the most popular cruise out of Charm City, a Sunday-to-Sunday excursion to Port Canaveral, Fla., and Freeport and Nassau, Bahamas.

We loaded the car in freezing rain in November. A short drive from Bethesda brought us to Baltimore's port. Fully visible from Interstate 95 was the massive 11-story liner of the Carnival Pride on which we -- and our 2,400 fellow passengers -- began a week of the royal treatment.

We bought the least expensive inside cabin ($499) and packed as much as we felt like (a total of six items: suitcases, book satchels, garment bags). As soon as we drove into the massive surface lot, we popped the trunk and stevedores removed our (pre-tagged) luggage. We parked, walked to the door and used one of the terminal's plentiful wheelchairs for the simple check-in and transport over the gangplank.

My mom used her walker from then on, an easy adaption once we figured out how to maneuver the heavy stateroom doors while pulling a walker in sideways.

Unknowingly, we chose a week when New Jersey schools were out, so more than 500 children of all ages were on our cruise. Kids running on the decks, inattentive to my mom's slower pace and need for space, could have been disastrous.

That problem never developed. The ship had three separate kids' camps, with their own facilities for dances, exercise, video walls, iMac computer labs, scavenger hunts, slumber parties and arts and crafts. The heavily staffed camps, and the kids-only pool, worked. We rarely saw youngsters, except at meals with their parents or grandparents, or hitting (ecologically safe) golf balls off the bow.

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