My wife and I enjoy cruising. With the Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean cruise lines, we have explored the Eastern and Western Caribbean. The decision to take the Carnival Miracle was because it was going to the South Caribbean and was a different cruise line. The port of calls for the cruise were Grand Turk, La Romana, Aruba, and Curacao. We enjoyed ourselves immensely on the Carnival Miracle. Our next cruise will be on the Carnival lines.
Next step is trying to plan shore excursions. We usually take the shore excursion sponsored by the cruise line even though they are more expensive. The reason is that they guarantee you are back on the ship. We got overviews of each port by researching on the internet two main sites (http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/ http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ ). It is usually customary to tip the driver and tour guide.
Although we enjoyed snorkelling in Huatulco, it was an activity we did not want to continue in our excursions. Our first port is the Grand Turk (http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=155 ). We had stayed in the Grand Turks previously for a week and had enjoyed the third largest barrier reef, walking on the beach around Grace Bay, Jo-Jo the dolphin, the conch farm, and the unique experience of driving on the left hand side of the road (British roadways). Using a suggestion from the cruise mates forum http://www.cruisemates.com/forum/ we were looking forward to relaxing close to Jack's Shack (#2 of 9 of restaurants) -- beach, lunch, drinks. There is even a free rum shot coupon from the bar's website http://www.jacksshack.tc/CouponPrinted.php
The second port is at La Romana in the Dominican Republic (http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=92 ). We had previously stayed at an all inclusive, now called Be Live Hamaca Beach in Boca Chica. We took a tour to Santo Domingo which highlighted the oldest church in the Americas, locations where Christopher Columbus stayed and where his son the governor ruled. That is why our decision was to take Altos de Chavon village tour (#3 of 16 attractions). Also, we will follow the advice of wearing walking shoes over the cobbled streets. It was designed by Oscar de la Renta
The third port is Aruba (http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=2 ). We thought about hopping aboard the Kukoo Kunuku party bus, going on the Balashi Brewery Tour, and finishing off by doing some shopping at the duty-frees. "4x4 ing" on the island also looked inviting. But, we settled on the Best of Aruba & Beach shore excursion as it would also leave us a couple of hours of power shopping.
The fourth and final port is Curacao (http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=15 ). The Sea Aquarium tour looked inviting but we swam with the dolphins in Cuba and the sting rays in the Grand Cayman. We chose the Discover Curacao Island Tour will allow more time to enjoy the ambience of Curacao and some shopping, although the Double the Fun Tour had raving reviews.
With excursions out of the way, ship planning is next on the list of things to do. We like the early seating for eating so that we can see the early live stage productions. We also looked at how the bed(s) are set -- 2 twins make one king. Prepaying gratuities, purchasing spa packages like massages & pedicures, making reservations at Nick and Nora's Steakhouse, choosing any speciality items such as the Party Cooler package which includes a cooler, four bottles of Corona beer, bucket hat, beer mug are just some of the different items we decided on.
We made "red-eye" flight arrangements to fly to Fort Lauderdale. Our plane departed at 11:55 pm from Edmonton to Houston. After a 2 hour layover we changed planes and proceeded to Fort Lauderdale.
We purchased 2 bottles of wine for consumption aboard the Carnival Miracle at the Dufry Duty Free shop in Edmonton. Our late departure from Edmonton made us go through US Customs in Houston. Because we had to re-enter the main concourse area from the Customs area, we had to go through security again . Therefore, we had to put our wine in our suitcases. Otherwise, the wine would not make it through security.
We had made arrangements with our travel agent to book transfers from the airport to the cruise terminal. We attached our cruise luggage tags as we waited for the bus. Many other cruisers also caught the bus from the airport.
After tipping the bus driver for offloading our luggage we became part of the masses waiting to board the ship. You can imagine trying to process over 2000 cruisers in less than 5 hours. At times it felt we were in Disney World with the lineups.
After getting our "Set & Sail" card, we were offered 3 choices as to what embarkation photo scene to choose.
ABOARD THE CARNIVAL MIRACLE -- DAY ONE (April 2)
We were not able to go directly to our stateroom as room stewards were cleaning all the rooms from the departing previous cruisers and the new "cruisers" luggage was coming aboard. Most new cruisers like us headed to the 9th deck to wait and also eat at the buffet. So, the hardest part was finding a table where to eat. We eventually found a table where we joined another couple.
We headed to the 10th deck to see if they had spa embarkation specials. My wife chose the 75 minute bamboo massage and I chose the 75 minute lime and salt massage. We saved $40 each and made our appointment for 5pm.
Around 1:30pm we decided to check if our stateroom 5240 with a balcony was ready (having a balcony allowed me to smoke outside beside our stateroom rather than have to go to the designated smoking areas on the 3rd and 10th deck). The room was ready and our suitcases had arrived. Therefore we offloaded our suitcases.
We had purchased the Corona cooler package as part of our bon voyage package and it was there but our pink package was not. We met our stateroom steward Fernadez Leny. He said to check at the host podium on the 3rd floor dining area as they were in charge of all packages.
At 3:15pm, there was a Muster Drill which is a practice of going to a designated spot for an emergency in which lifeboats need to be used. We went to Muster station D.
Once the drill was over, we headed back to our room. My wife had a small nap as we did not get much sleep on the airplane, while I sat out on the balcony. Also, the lack of sleep probably caused me to have diarrhea and I didn't bring Imodium.
Our 4pm departure from the Fort Lauderdale cruise terminal was delayed because the adjacent ship was being moved by a tugboat and we were still loading groceries.
Kathija, who was from South Africa, gave me a delightful massage at 5pm. My wife enjoyed her deep tissue massage.
After completing our massages, we went to the 3rd deck part of the Bacchus Dining Room (decorator scheme is burgundy grape-like) to dine. My wife had tomato soup as the starter and shrimp and noodles for the main course. I had a salad and a medium flat iron steak. The meal was very flavorful. The piece de resistance was the heavenly vanilla CrÃ¨me Brule we had for dessert.
While we waited for dessert, the bon voyage steward can over and said the reason our pink package did not arrive is that they did not have any women's XXL pink shirts but could get it in XL size (which was not listed on the internet). Because the XL shirt happened to be the size we wanted, we agreed to keep the package (pink bag, pink shirt, and pink visor).
After supper, we explored the shops on the third deck. Then, we headed back to our room, had a nap until 11 pm and went to Mad Hatter's Ball (decorator scheme is Alice in Wonderland) on the 1st deck to listen to the adult show from a comedian.
SEA DAY -- DAY 2 (April 3)
Our bodies were compensating for the lack of sleep. So we slept in until 10am. Although I did get up at 7am to watch the sun rise. At 11 am we went for brunch on the 2nd deck of the Bacchus Dining Room. We were entertained by a comedian from Georgia for 15 minutes. While my wife ate an omelet and I had Eggs Benedict. Also, the coffee in the dining room is so much better than the buffet area.
We went up to the 3rd deck to view the shops. Our first stop was the photo kiosk where we purchased our embarkation photo. Our next stop was the jewelry, women's accessories, and perfume shop where I bought a $10 digital sports watch and my wife bought a $10 watch for one of our daughters. We brought our purchases back to the room and changed into sun wear.
Usually when you get back to the room (put your sign out), the steward has cleaned the room, made the bed, and designed a towel animal. You look forward to their creativity.
Having a late start to get sun meant we could not find any room by the two 9th deck swimming pool areas. However, we did manage to find a couple of chairs on the 10th Sun Deck which overlooked the pools.
My wife's skin can absorb the sun's rays better than mine. I found in the short time that I was on the sun deck my knees got a little pink. I departed at 2pm for the art auction with champagne, while my wife stayed in the sun and finished her book. She later joined me at the auction. As we stayed until the end of the auction, we were each given a thank you print.
We went back to the room and changed as it was formal night in the Bacchus Dining Room. There was about 10 photo booths set up to take pictures. We used 5 of them all dressed-up, prior to dining.
As our tastes are very similar we each ate a Greek salad, 'shared' alligator fritters, Maine lobster, and Cherries Jubilee.
After the meal I had to change into something more comfortable. So I removed my sports jacket, white shirt and tie and replaced them with a colorful Jamaican shirt. We then proceeded to the 2nd deck Phantom Hall (decorator scheme is Phantom of the Opera). We watched a well choreographed performance by the dance troupe in conjunction with a live band.
GRAND TURKS -- DAY 3 (April 4)
Around 7am, the Carnival Miracle docked into the Grand Turks wharf beside the Carnival Pride.
We did not book a shore excursion so we had a leisurely buffet breakfast on the 9th deck Horatio's Lounge around 9:30am. As we proceeded off the gangway from A deck, we had our pictures taken.
All cruisers walked from the wharf and then entered in Dufry's Duty Free Shops which is on the cruise line properties. Most cruisers enjoyed the sandy beach or went to Margaritaville http://www.margaritavillecaribbean.com/welcome_grandturk.html .
We proceeded past the cruise line property along the beach to almost the next wharf to Jack's Shack. I used my coupon to have a free rum shot. The price of drinks is cheaper than Margaritaville.
In reflection, we should have stayed on the cruise line property. Although we were interested in taking the historical shore excursion tour, one of the couple's that took the tour was not impressed with it.
We headed back early and read off of our balcony until supper time. At the Bacchus Dining Room, my wife ate the Cornish hen and I had the rack of lamb as main courses. I really enjoyed the white chocolate bread pudding for dessert.
When the meal was finished we walked over to the photo kiosk to see our elegant dressed-up pictures from the previous night. We had lots of choices as went to 5 different stations and at least 3 variations of shots were taken. We took our purchased pictures back to our stateroom. Then we proceeded to the Phantom Hall to watch the hypnotist show. Before we made it a night, we watched to different comedians do their routines at Mad Hatter's.
LA ROMANA -- DAY 4 (April 5)
It was fascinating watching the Carnival Miracle try to manoeuvre into port. The ship had to back into the dock. The Carnival Miracle is one of the quickest in terms of expediting cruisers off the ship. Again, there are photo opportunities as one disembarks.
We walked to the bus that was designated in going to the Altos de Chavon village. Our tour guide, "Tony" -- Anthony Torres was very informative during the short bus ride (25 minutes) about the area of Casa de Campos.
As a group, our first attraction was the amphitheater. It was incredible. Next we walked through a courtyard where some of the locals were in dancing costumes and some were playing music near the amber museum. Some of the group took pictures posing with the dancers.
Although we were given 15 minutes in the museum, the confined space with a large group made breathing muggy. Some cruisers persisted in the area, especially those purchasing larimar and amber jewelry.
We were given 75 minutes of free time to explore. The number of indoor shops was limited, small in size, and expensive --linen, cigar, golf, artisan. There were two outside booths -- one selling dolls under a tree and the other a table of handicrafts. There were photo opportunities of the buildings, landscape, and a costumed man and his donkey. Even after having a beer at one of the 3 bars, we had too much time to kill.
When our "free" time was up, Tony took us to the church in the main courtyard and then took us to a historical museum about past inhabitants. We saw those during our free time.
When we returned, we had a nap before eating at the Bacchus Dining Room 3rd deck. For main courses, my wife had the turkey breast filets while I had the Petit filet mignon (beef tenderloin) and short ribs.
We purchased two more pictures at the photo kiosk. Someone tried to walk out of the photo section without paying so the security alarms went off.
Next stop was the fun shops where we purchased two Cruising Divas baseball caps (2 for $20 or 1 for $16.95), 2 children tops for our youngest two grandchildren (2 for $20 or 1 for $12.95) , and an XXL navy blue fleece shirt with a Carnival insignia on sale for $29.95 from $64.99.
We dropped off our purchases at our stateroom before proceeding to Phantom Hall. The main singer did a lot of Frank Sinatra numbers in the Big Band swing style and involved some of the kids from the children's program. He worked in conjunction with the dance troupe and orchestra. It was relaxing and very good.
ARUBA -- DAY 5 (April 6)
As the ship was to arrive in Aruba at noon, we had a causal morning. It started in the Bacchus Dining room where my wife had pancakes, strawberries and whipped cream and I had Belgian waffles with blueberries, syrup and turkey bacon along with a toasted bagel with cream cheese and salmon lox.
We relaxed in Serenity lounge, an adult only location on the 9th deck, for about an hour. At 11am, we decided to go to the Phantom Theatre to listen to the shore excursion expert as to what places to visit and shop in Aruba and Curacao. Being on the 2nd deck, we were able to collect a Curacao print, a child's bamboo shirt and a Del Sol Frisbee, during his product demonstrations.
One of interesting things he said was to get a postcard and mail it in Curacao because they had very colorful stamps. Stamp collectors and grandchildren would appreciate this.
He gave us a heads up that today being Good Friday that most of the shops would be closed, however, because 3 cruise ships were arriving, shops close to the wharf would be open from 12-5.
I saw a group of dolphins follow the ship before we docked at noon.
At 12:30, we got on the bus to start our Best of Aruba & Beach tour. Our tour guide, Alex, was also our motor coach driver. We drove past the airport, Balashi brewery, and salinization plant. The plant takes ocean water and makes it drinkable and also produces the islands electricity. As this increased the price of potable water, there was usually a 50 cent charge to use a public washroom.
Our first stop was at a rock formation which we climbed and had a view of the island. We purchased bottle water and bought a couple gifts -- nightgown and beach bag. Then bus drove past a cemetery with mausoleums that were brightly painted. Alex said that the last inhabitant were to be put at ease because the color was to match that of their house. Then headed to the arid side of the island (lots of cacti along the way) to see the land bridges, our second stop. Our third stop was the California lighthouse where had a $3 coconut with a straw. As we drove past the public beaches, there were a lot of tents. Apparently the locals come down to the ocean for two weeks as family groups to enjoy getting away from their normal living. The action on the island is at Palm Beach where the resorts are located and our final tour stop. We walked along the beach and found a couple of chairs to enjoy the sun and beach ambience before out hour was up.
Many people on the tour including ourselves got off the bus on main street to do some power shopping. First, we went to Effy jewellery. We got our free peridot coupon necklace and purchased the matching earrings for $10. Then, we went to the market and bought another nightgown, bag, souvenirs, and a matching "leopard" purse set. The market seemed to have the best prices. Before boarding the ship, I bought Oriens, a Van Cleef & Arpels parfum and Million, a Paco Rabanne eau de toilette, at Maggies because they were not on the cruise ship.
We went back to the room and had a shower to clean off the sand and the day's humidity. Being refreshed, we headed to the Bacchus Dining room. The advantage of any time dining is that you are not stuck to a time, for us it was a good thing this trip. We both ate Seafood Newberg (mussels, shrimp, scallops, and mushrooms).
The next destination for the Carnival Miracle is New York, so they put all their Southern Caribbean apparel on sale in stages. We could help purchasing 6 Aruba shirts at $5 each compared to $16.95.
For the evening's entertainment, we stayed in the Phantom Theatre. We watched the "game" show, followed by bingo and then the Love and Marriage show.
We walked past the fun shops which were closed and noticed tomorrow's sales items were yellow Curcacao T-shirts.
CURACAO -- DAY 6 (April 7)
It was interesting watching a tugboat carry the ropes to the bollard stations so that the ship could secure itself to the small wharf, as the ship docked in Curacao. We went to the 9th deck for a buffet breakfast before going on the Discover the Island Tour at 8:30.
Our 62 year old driver, Marcel, and talkative guide "Wa Wa" drove us around on the tour. Our first stop was an old Dutch army infirmary. Inside the main building was old mahogany furniture from when the island had mahogany and an organ donated by Queen Julianna. Another building had the front part of an old airplane engine. Then we went by the salinization plant and a variety of neighborhoods before arriving at the Hata limestone caves by the airport.
Edsel, the cave guide, instructed us that we had to climb 49 steps before entering the cave. Inside we saw stalactites, stalagmites, bats, water pools and interesting configurations. One of which looked like the Virgin Mary.
We proceeded over a tall arching bridge to the curcacao liqueur factory. Our favorite sample was the orange flavored one. We purchased the taster pack -- 5 flavors. At the gift shop on site we purchased a postcard and stamps.
On the bus ride back we composed our letter to our youngest granddaughter. We were part of the group that got off the bus by the roundabout rather than the ship. It saved walking time. We walked across the pontoon bridge into the main shopping area. We used our Effy jewelry coupon again and got citrine pendants and we purchased the matching $10 earrings. We then went searching for the Post Office which was closed on Saturday, however, the mailbox was open. It was a good thing I had bought stamps. On the way back to the ship, we walked into a few of the stores but we mostly window shopped. We also walked past the produce market and fish market. After we walked back over the bridge we stopped at a kiosk and bought a pink dress for our granddaughter. The Aruba labelled nightgown my wife bought for $14 cost $4 more because it had a Curcacao label at the street kiosks.
The liqueur was scanned through the security as we boarded. This means it is detained and put in storage until the final night.
We were starved at 1:30 pm because we hadn't eaten since breakfast so we "pigged out" by eating hamburgers, fries, and strawberry soft ice cream by the poolside venue on the 9th deck.
We headed back to the stateroom for a nap exhausted and full. We got up prior to the ship leaving the wharf at 4pm.
The shops aboard the ship do not open until we are out at sea. This meant those yellow T-shirts were to go on sale at 4:30. There was a crowd of 60 cruisers that had the same idea. There was a mad rush when the doors eventually opened at 4:45 and shirts were flying. Remembering that the t-shirts were actually one size smaller than they should be, I luckily located a XXXL for me and a XL for my wife quickly.
As we had a late lunch we had a later supper 7pm. My wife did not enjoy the meatloaf and I found my Atlantic salmon dry. The savior was the bread pudding with vanilla sauce.
We caught the last part of the game show at Phantom Theater before enjoying 2 sessions of karaoke in Mad Hatter's. We then watched Showcase of the Stars in the Phantom theatre, before heading back to our room to sleep.
SEADAY -- DAY 7 (April 8)
We got up at our own leisure and had a late brunch at the Bacchus dining room. The comedian Jorge Solano entertained for 15 minutes.
The day was overcast. So we sat in our balcony chairs peacefully reading and occasionally glancing at the ocean. Sometimes seeing flying fish jump into the next wave.
After I finished reading my book, I headed down to the 3rd deck fun stores. The St. Kitts shirts did not capture my interest.
We went to the champagne art auction at 1pm. Once you have your bid card they give you some stickies. You apply the stickie to a piece of art you are interested in. I do that sometimes just to hear about the artist like art history. They only bring up art that cruisers are interested in because there is no way 6000 paintings will be sold in 1.5 hours. If you are more serious about the painting or collector's item talk to a sales associate for a price before the auction. There is usually about Â½ hour viewing period.
We went for high tea at 3pm on the 3rd deck of the Bacchus dining room.
A waiter comes by with a dolley loaded with 4 different kinds of desserts on the top level and cucumber sandwiches and salmon lox on baguette slices on the bottom level. The lemon meringue "tarts" were mouth watering.
I can see why they ask cruisers to bring expandable pants. It is easy to gain a pound a day. With good intentions, we brought our workout gear but failed to use them.
It was another elegant dress night in the Bacchus Dining Room. For supper, we both had corn chowder and chateaubriand and a baked potato.
That night we watched an outstanding well choreographed production called "Ticket to Ride" in the Phantom Theatre. The theme was Beatles songs. When it was over we went to Mad Hatter's for some adult punchline comedy. John Knight gave the first show and Jorge Solano gave the second show.
Usually when we arrive by to our room at night, the sheets are turned back and there are chocolate wafers. Tonight it chocolate Easter eggs on the pillow (It was Easter Sunday).
SEADAY -- DAY 8 (April 9)
The main feature about cruising is relaxing. No beds to make. No meals to cook.
I let my wife sleep in this morning. I went to the 9th deck Horatio lounge for an omelet and brought my wife back a coffee and a yogurt. (The coffee is better in the Bacchus Dining Room). She enjoyed them while reading off our balcony.
Around 11am, I went to the 3rd deck fun shops. I purchased two $5 Grand Turks t-shirts, a citrine colored Italian charm bracelet for $20 regularly $89, and a $40 set with bracelet, earrings, & pendant with blue Italian charms regularly $146. I received a raffle ticket for a prize which would be drawn at 2:30pm. I also pre-ordered crÃ¨me caramel for the evenings supper at the Bacchus.
My wife was hungry, so we went to the Bacchus Dining Room on the 2nd deck upon my return from shopping. My wife had blueberry pancakes while had a toasted bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese. After eating we checked out the shops and purchased two cartons of gold Marlborough cigarettes for $52 before going back to the room.
At 1pm we went to the final champagne art auction in Mad Hatter's. My wife left at 2:30pm to check if our raffle ticket was the lucky one, because you had to be in attendance. At the same time, fashion watch sets came on sale. My wife bought 3 different sets. However, we later returned two of them. One set was missing a facet and the other one set I couldn't see our son wearing. We did buy him a $10 Bijou Terner digital watch.
At met my wife at the 3rd deck Bacchus Dining room for high tea. Later we went back to our room for more reading off the balcony.
For supper we both had the prime rib. I tried the frog legs for an appetizer. The crÃ¨me caramel we had for dessert was exquisite.
We went back to our room to get a start on packing our suitcases. As we were in zone 18 we could leave our suitcases outside our room between 9pm and 12, and the crew would transport the suitcases to zone 18 in the cruise terminal. We would not have to lug them off the ship. We kept out the clothes we would be wearing the next day.
We walked to Phantom Hall on the 3rd deck and observed the final games of bingo on the cruise, before watching the final stage performance. Included in the performance were talented cruisers who were selected to perform songs.
After we came back my wife showered so that she could put most of her cosmetics in the suitcase. We then put our large suitcases outside our room for pick-up before going to sleep.
FORT LAUDERDALE -- DAY 9 (April 10)
We woke up after 7am, so we missed the ship docking. We put yesterday's clothes and the final cosmetic items in our travel cases. We later transferred these articles to our suitcases at the airport.
We went up to Horatio's lounge for a relaxed buffet breakfast with our travel cases, so that the room steward could clean the room. We then went to the garden room to wait until zone 18 was called to disembark.
We went to zone 18 and picked up our large suitcases before going through US Customs at the cruise terminal. We were given directions as to where our bus was in order to transfer to the airport.
We arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport around 10am. The plane was scheduled to depart at 4:44pm. After we walked through security we went to Hudson News, where we purchased 2 bottles of water, 2 payday peanut bars, and a couple of motivational books (one was called ADAVANTAGE). With the long break, I had three smoke breaks. Therefore I had to go through security another three times. As the flight was full, we were all to take advantage of getting our small travel cases packed for free.
The flight took 3 hours to Chicago. We had a 1 hour layover before taking a 3 Â½ hour flight to Edmonton. Our quick departure from the Chicago airport meant we arrived in Edmonton early 11:30pm before going through Canada Customs.