This was our first cruise so i want to include information which i feel is relevant to first time cruisers as well as people looking for a review specific to Carnival Miracle. Our first impressions when queueing to board carnival miracle were not what we expected. It seemed to us straight away that this cruise may be at the 'budget' end of the market. I hope that this does not offend anyone who took the cruise, as i say its just an honest opinion. As we boarded it was the first time we became aware of the 'fun' ship element of Carnival Miracle and this was entirely down to a lack of research on our part - we were really looking to spend a lot time relaxing and enjoying peace and quiet with good food and nice weather, but we appeared to be boarding a disco boat to the Bahamas! The embarkation process was very simple and quick and the welcome lunch aboard the ship was a good chance to see what could be expected. The ship was larger than we expected and although the interior decor is very odd indeed, it was clean and well kept. Our cabin, on deck four aft with balcony was great. Very clean and larger than we expected. A lot of the things that we were unsure about before out first cruise were made clear very quickly although I am sure that arrangements vary on different ships and cruise lines.
The breakfast and lunches on this ship take the form of a giant buffet offering a wide range of options, cereals and cooked breakfasts andeverything from Burgers and Hot Dogs to Carvery and Chinese at lunch time. Some are better than others. One problem we had was my wife being a vegetarian, there were not many options and the foods that were suitable for vegetarians were being served up using the same utensils as the meat and fish dishes, the staff serving the food who spoke limited english seemed to have little concept of 'vegetarian'. Also, and I certainly dont want to offend anyone, there seems to be nothing on earth that can stop a hungry american in a buffet queue! The dining area, known as Horatios was at times like a turkish market - so many people fighting to get as much food as possible on to a tray that it made the whole experience more painful than necessary. There was however plenty of food to go around, the minus point being that there simply were not enough tables to seat the number of people at the busier times. I would recommend waiting until service has been running for an hour to avoid the rush.
The lido deck was busy with families and young people having 'fun', there was music playing throughout the day and plenty of activities, most people looked like they were having a great time, we found the 'serenty' deck at the aft of deck 9 which was adults only and this was a great haven for people seeking a quieter time. The only drawback being that unless you got there early it was hard to get a sun lounger.
The evening meals served in Bacchus restaurant (where the odd decor gets even worse!). The large area seats a huge number of people and the menu was quite varied with some meals consistent every day and another menu which changes daily. Again the veggie options were limited but they do exist! Some of the waiting staff do give you the impression that you need to get a move on because they have so many people to serve. There were two styles of dining, one with a fixed time and one 'anytime'. We had anytime dining but found that most nights you had to wait half an hour to get a table but they do give you a buzzer so you can go to one of the many bars and get a drink while you wait.
The alternative dining option was Nick & Noras, the onboard steakhouse - I cannot rate this highly enough. The manager, Elena was fantastic. She and her staff made us feel so welcome that we didnt care about the $35 surcharge and ate there on 5 out of the 8 nights on the cruise. The food was outstanding and the chef (Johnson) came to see us at our table every night and made special veggie meals for my wife. The wines are much better and there is a very helpful sommelier to help you chose. I would eat at this place all the time if it were in London if for no other reason than the fantastic service and great food.
The cabin service was excellent, you kind of felt that every time you left the cabin they came in and tidied up and cleaned. I cannot fault the cabin stewards in any way at all.
The bars in the evenings had various different things going on so there are options availible depending on whether you prefer lively or quiet drinks! We went to Sams Bar and saw Peter playing the Piano and singing! We only popped into to see the shows in the Phantom Lounge, we certianly did not see enough to make a fair judgement as they are not really our sort of thing.
Afternoon tea served in Bacchus at 3pm on Sea Days was good. There was plenty of cake and nice teas, the staff however had clearly never served either of them before and would probably only need to be shown once...but i guess its the least of their worries!
So..info for first timers:
The drinks are not cheap on board. It's a good idea to keep an eye on your running tab which you can do from the TV in your cabin. They mount up quickly!
There is full mobile phone reception at sea at international dialling rates and the phone in the cabin is also good.
The onboard TV is dodgy....only a few poor channels with inconsistent reception but if you take a cruise to watch TV then dont take a cruise!
The onboard gratuities apply to almost everything...this was a new concept to us English people...everything you buy has a price on a menu and everything has a tip added to it.
To air my main gripes about this ship, I would say the worst part is the constant effort by the cruise company to sell you something. There are contstant reminders of the things for sale as well people standing in the ship trying to take photographs of you which they then try to sell to you later in the day. It would be a nice option if you wanted it but to have it thrown in your face constantly is a little irritating. Everyday they reminid you that there is a desk open where you can book your next cruise as well as constant announcments about the shore excursions, all of this information is provided in a newsletter which is delivered to your cabin each evening but they insist on reading out over the PA system each morning as well. Also, the air conditioning in the ship is so cold that in the evening you almost need an extra layer of clothing!
The best bits....definitely Nick & Noras, the Serenity Deck and the wide choice of places to spend yout time. The library is also good if you arrive on board without a book to read! The cabins and cleanliness were top class with fresh towels and restocked mini bar every day!
Whilst my review may appear somewhat negative, I would like to say that my wife and I did enjoy the cruise very much but we selected a ship and perhaps a cruise line which was not really suited to our tastes. Wandering around on the outside decks in the evening when the air is still warm and watching the world go by really is very enjoyable and whilst I may not have been in love with Carnival Miracle, it has certainly whetted our appetite for cruising again in the future.