My wife and I took our 2nd Carnival cruise in as many years after sailing the Glory last year. I was looking forward to comparing the two classes of ships and see how they stacked up to each other. I had heard so much how the layout of the Spirit class was top notch, and after being frustrated by the layout of the Glory, I was very interested in seeing for myself. So the theme of my review is comparison.
Last year we drove ourselves and paid the $30 per night fee as it was not only convenient, but actually cheaper than a round trip cab ride. However, with the rate jumping to $35 per night, and this trip being 8 nights instead of 5 we took a private car to and from the pier. Dropping off was easy enough, with waiting porters eager to take our bags upon our early arrival. The convenience of driving yourself really comes through though on debark, as we had to jockey ourselves amongst huge crowds so our driver could see us in the wave of humanity. Last year we went straight to the car, and was home in under an hour from leaving the ship. But to save over $150, it was worth it.
Boarding was not as good as last year. We arrived at the port at around 9AM, an hour earlier than last year since we were sailing an hour earlier, and there was already a small crowd of people waiting. Last year we literally arrived, breezed through security and check in, and had our boarding zone number in 15 minutes. We weren't called to check in until 10:30, and by this time, a wedding party and several groups we were waiting with us. Check in was painless, but I noticed it was past 11AM and people were still leaving the ship, which I think caused what I thought was a delay in the boarding process.
With all the talk of paying for priority boarding, I wanted to see how long before we boarded with our zone 3 ticket compared to others. If it was 15 minutes from the time boarding started to when our zone was called, it was alot, so I wouldn't pay the extra cash for this perk.
Once on board, we went to Horatios for lunch. We got a great table overlooking the Disney Magic, and since it was a rainy afternoon, Horatios quickly filled up as the outdoor seating was getting rained on. Food was okay, with a nod above what we had on Glory, so I was hopeful we would have a better food experience than last year.
After eating, we walked around the ship getting ourselves oriented with the layout, and immediately noticed a huge difference from Glory. Very, very happy with it which I will touch on in a minute. We were counting the minutes to 1:30, as we were quite eager to dump our carry on bags in the cabin and get freshened up to explore the ship some more.
Cabin was a little late in being ready, as I think the lateness of the prior passengers disembarking was a factor. As last year, this was an anniversary cruise for us, and I had requested the room to be decorated again, and I was very disappointed to see that the room had no decorations. I was about to go to Guest Services when I noticed an envelope in our mailbox saying that the anniversary decorations were sold out. Disappointing and puzzling at the same time, but a credit was issued to my credit card, so we didn't pursue it further. Room, I thought, was a little smaller than what we had on Glory, but was probably my imagination. In addition, the room was not properly cleaned as we had to call the steward in to wipe down some stray hairs and dust from the black TV stand. This may have been due to the crew trying to make up for lost time for the passengers getting off late, but it was a quick small strike against them. Also, the wood on the furniture was worn in spots, which I thought would have been taken care of during drydock, but I guess there wasn't time to do so. Advantage: Glory
I thought the food, both in quality and selection, was better on Miracle than Glory. On the buffet, the food was okay-good. Nothing spectacular, but the deli sandwiches were very good, blowing away what I had on Glory. Pizza was disappointing as it was bland and needed lots of seasoning. The pizza with toppings were passable at best. Burgers are burgers, so not much to say there. The Asian station was usually good, and they had one station with a different food theme everyday which was a nice change up.
Last year I had a problem with the food in the MDR, as it was always served at room temperature, and the service was slow, with dinner routinely taking 2+ hours.
This time, it was the complete opposite.
The wait staff were superb. We were handed menus within 30 seconds of sitting down. Orders were taken in an appropriate amount of time, and food was always served quickly and hot. The menu was better that what I remembered from Glory last year, with Filet Mignon actually making an appearance one evening. We had second sitting dinner, and actually arrived at 8:30 to avoid the opening crush, and most nights were out in an hour, or a little more. We actually were making 9:45 shows some nights. A true turnaround from the Glory.
One thing I absolutely enjoyed was the Comedy Brunch. The menu is available online so no need to recap, but the food and variety were outstanding, and you can have something different each day it is available. Again, service was great, food was hot, and the comedians walked around for 10 minutes at the top of the hour making light banter.
We did Nick and Nora's on Grand Turk night, our anniversary, and unfortunately we were still full from lunch. The steak was very good, but the other courses I found to be ordinary. Service was good, but really, nothing like we didn't already experience in the MDR. We had a bottle of wine that we didn't finish that we had sent to our table the next night in MDR. There was nothing bad about it, but we didn't leave thinking it was something we had to do again. Believe me when I say the food and service in the MDR was really good, so maybe that had something to do with it, but it was not so head and shoulders above anything else that it was worth the $35 pp.
Advantage: Miracle, big time
We are not ones to hit every activity possible, so for us, there was always something to do when we wanted. Others feel there are cutbacks and less to do, and they may be right, but for us, it was fine.
The evening shows were enjoyable as well. This was our first time on Miracle, so they were all new to us. Ticket to Ride was really good. We tried to see as many different comedians as possible, and except for one guy who was okay, we laughed the whole show. We weren't able to see any comedy shows last year as the club filled up quickly and we aren't the get there an hour before type. The theater shows were a step above I thought as well. Strictly opinion of course. Advantage: Miracle
San Juan: Ship docks in Old San Juan, and after what amounts to 3 straight days at sea, reaching a port was nice to see. If you are into older buildings, you will like it. Seems to be a bit on the dumpish side IMO. Walked around, did a little shopping, and did the picture with the birds that was pretty cool. All in all, it seems like a stop they use because it is convenient.
St Thomas: Our favorite of the three. Beautiful clear day, which made Paradise Point all the better. The tram ride up can give you a moment or two of anxiety, but it's a nice view up to the top. Stayed up there for about an hour, taking pictures and enjoying Bushwackers. Went back down, and instead of taking a cab downtown, did some shopping at Havensight Mall, and then went to the Butterfly Garden, which is right across from the ship at the pier. My wife loves loves butterflies, so this was an unexpected treat for her. Bought some more souvenirs there as well. Went back to the ship for lunch and to cool off. We went to Serenity for sailaway, and I love to see different cruise ships, so it was a treat to see the Freedom, Carnival Dream, and Oasis.
Was really looking forward to this port, and my expectations were more than what I saw. The beach was okay. Nothing in the way of trash, but the water had alot of seaweed and other things collecting around the feet. Not dirty in any way, but I envisioned perfect beaches and water. Water was crystal clear. Best part is getting to basically share the same water as the ship. Really cool to be in the water with the ship so close by. My wife has health issues and was not up to the walk down to Jack's Shack and back, so we went to Margaritaville with the full knowledge it would be a tourist trap. Ordered nachos for appetizer and it was a huge, huge amount. Enough to feed 4 people, it was a meal in itself. We could not finish lunch, and while the bill amount was touristy, really nothing crazy, and not that far off from what I would have paid here at home. We shared this port with the Pride, who arrived much earlier than us and left around 2PM. Really liked the ships saluting each other with the horn as Pride pulled away. Interestingly enough, at some point a Royal Navy ship pulled in alongside us without even noticing it.
Last year we did the Canada cruise, which while nice, cannot compare to a Caribbean itinerary. Almost unfairly, advantage Miracle, big time again.
I was a little apprehensive first boarding as the stigma of a smaller ship can play a role in comparison. I was a little disappointed to see the room a little worn, and I did inexplicably observe an outside staircase on the back of one outer deck that had plenty of rust, as well as Horatios missing some ornamentation, considering the recent drydock. However, this was all on the first day, and everything else was great. I thought the decor lagged a bit when compared to the Glory, since Glory has a bright kaleidoscope theme to the more darker tones of Miracle. I preferred Glory's atrium as well, even though I did grow to appreciate Miracle's atrium and decor.
However, the deciding factor to favor Miracle in blowout fashion is the layout of the Spirit Class. What a huge difference and relief from the Conquest class. I was thoroughly frustrated by Glory's layout, particularly with the dining room access, but Miracle made it a breeze and pleasure to walk about the ship. As well, the elevator wait times, which were downright horrific on Glory, were practically nonexistent on Miracle. Yes, Miracle carries less passengers, but size to passenger ratio evens that out. Gatsby Garden was a great little secret place to hang out away from everyone else.
The ship was spotless, and yes, there were times when you would see dishes on tables at the Lido buffet, but not like I experienced before, and even then, it was only some of the time. Staff was friendly, and we always got a hello when walking through the hallways.
While I would be more than happy to sail Conquest class again, I much prefer the smaller Spirit class. If you ever doubted all of the high praise of the ships's layout, don't. It was simply awesome to cruise on. I didn't fall in love with the decor right away, and it took day to adjust to the purple passion of Bacchus, but by the end of the cruise it all meshed into one great, enjoyable experience. Always something sad about the last night in the MDR when they do the 'leaving on a funship' song. Service was excellent, no doubt about it. To be out of the MDR in an hour on some nights is awesome, and the food was always hot when served.
If I had one complaint, it had to do with Lido buffet closing times. It closes at 2:30 ( I think 3:00 would be better), but even worse, they start pulling food away even if you are already on line. On more than one occasion we saw people getting shut out while already on line. What they really should do is place something behind the last person marking the line closed, and everyone who is already on line gets served. To pull food away when people are online is a little ridiculous. Just close the line and put food away after last person is served.
With regards to food, someone commented to me that they had much better food on Disney in comparison. My response was, I don't come aboard Carnival expecting to have the best meals of my life, and while you might have better food on Disney, you are also paying twice as much to eat them. Same thing for entertainment. I didn't feel cheated in anyway on this cruise. I can certainly live without being asked to be photographed at every dinner, but for what I paid for this cruise, and what I got in return, is very tough to beat.
Overall, I enjoyed the Miracle more than the Glory. Both are wonderful ships and should be cruised on, but in comparison, Miracle comes out on top.