My husband and I have become cruising addicts thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines. Our first experience was a two day "cruise to nowhere" and our second cruise was to Bermuda (on the Legend and Victory). Being that we live in Maryland we were very pleased to see that a number of cruise lines were beginning to use the Port of Baltimore for embarkation in 2003 and 2004. Unfortunately, now there are only one to two cruise ships leaving from our area.
The cruise to the Bahamas aboard the Miracle was nothing short of miraculous. We arrived at the Port of Baltimore around 11:00 a.m., the ship was already there and had been cleared from the previous sailing. We drove through the secured terminal area to a warehouse, there a porter unloaded our luggage and we proceeded to park our car in a gated lot. A shuttle bus took us to the terminal where we waited a short while to meet with an agent that issued our Sail and Sign cards and checked our documents. From luggage drop off to walking onto the boat the whole process was 30 - 45 minutes.
We immediately went to see our room which was an inside on deck 7. Since we spend little "awake" time in our room we have always opted for an interior cabin. The room was what we expected- although the beds were separated into two twins instead of one king. I requested the change from our cabin steward- and he had the adjustments made prior to us returning. Unlike some other responders we saw our room steward quite often, I found him very friendly, accessible and attentive (we found he had been with CCL for 13 years). One thing I liked was always having fresh ice in our ice bucket. I swear he changed the ice a few times a day because I never found small ice cubes just floating in melted ice.
After we checked out the room it was onto the Lido deck for some food. The buffet line was comparable to that of the other two cruises. I enjoyed the deli sandwiches and the fresh salads. The presentation, while not fancy, was adequate (clean serving areas and filled trays). The free beverage selection was ample with juices, tea and hot drinks. I purchased a soda-card for $30 or so dollars, if you drink two or more sodas a day then it is well worth the price.
The boat left port on time and we sailed down the Chesapeake Bay. The weather was gorgeous (although a little chilly toward the evening on the deck). The first evening was a casual dinner. We had a late seating (which we prefer) and found we were seated with a larger group from our area (24 in all).
First day at sea was wonderful. I ordered room service of bagels and juice. It arrived on time (which also served as our wake-up call). After getting dressed in our bathing suits we headed up to the Lido deck for our second breakfast, which we ate in a lounge chair while we watched the beautiful ocean pass by. We pretty much stayed camped out in those lounge chairs for the entire day. Occasionally we would get up to get a drink or get in the pool. After the sun was setting we checked out the fitness center. The equipment was in good working order and equivocal to that of our local gym. I think there might have been 10 people in the whole place. This was the first formal night, so we got ready and went down towards the restaurant. Of course CCL had their entire photo stations set up. We had our pictures taken (I found the price to be reasonable and the quality to be above average). The dinner menu offered a large selection for everybody. This was "lobster" night, and my husband being a seafood eater asked for two entrees- a lobster and steak. The food was presented nicely and came to the table quickly. The drink server seemed overwhelmed but seemed to get to the table twice during our dinner. The head waiter and assistant waiter were excellent. After dinner we went to the show which was a Las Vegas style musical. Following the show we decided to go to the dance club. We were disappointed to see that it was empty and the music selection was rap or hip-hop. This was the case the entire cruise. I would have liked some musical variety at the dance club. So, we ventured into another bar that had a live band playing, here people were dancing and the band sounded pretty good, so, we stayed.
Day two at sea pretty much followed the schedule of the previous day. I enjoy just laying in the sun, so I had no complaints being left out on the deck. I did notice that finding a "prime" chair may be difficult because there are a lot of towel chair-holders out there. I personally did not leave my towel lying around since CCL checks the towels out under your cabin number and then you are held financially responsible for that towel. On a previous cruise two passengers got into an argument over a towel and who it belonged to. Late in the afternoon we sailed near Miami- we could see the coast well. This position enabled us to use our cell phones and call home to check on our kids. That evening there was a complimentary cocktail hour for "repeaters" which was nice. Another nice dinner and show followed by waking around the decks (which are nearly empty late in the night).
Key West: We docked in Key West early in the morning ate breakfast and got off the boat to walk around the city before our excursion (which we booked through Carnival). Come to find out that right off the dock was the outfit Carnival contracted with offering the same excursion for less. I think we paid maybe $20-30 more to book it though CCL rather then through them directly. Nonetheless, we took a catamaran out to a coral reef about 30 minutes from shore. Here we jumped in and snorkeled. The snorkeling was not great- apparently because of the recent hurricanes. I began to feel kind of sea sick which swimming in the ocean (which I found to be quite odd), so I went back on the boat and waited to leave. One of the people running the tour said I was probably feeling sick from drinking salt water which snorkeling. I am not sure if that is what caused it, but I was glad to be back at shore. After the boat ride we walked about a mile through Key West to the Southern most point in the United States buoy. It was extremely hot, but we enjoyed stopping in the shops to look around and cool down as we strolled. Then, it was back to the boat and off to the Bahamas. If I were to go to Key West again I would rent one of these two person "golf-cart" like cars. Companies will meet you at the cruise ship and drop you back off again.
Bahamas- Since we felt we overpaid on the catamaran excursion, we decided to go out on our own in Nassau. I had read up a good bit and thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong- now I know why in some cases it is better to just pay the extra and book the tour. We got off the boat and were immediately attacked by the vendors. If you just keep walking and don't make eye-contact they will move onto the next person. I am sure the locals think we are all rude Americans, but if I want to buy something I will let the person know. We proceeded to walk toward Paradise Island- our intent was to take a tour to Blue Lagoon. After walking for about 10 minutes we got a taxi and he took us the rest of the way. We made it the Blue Lagoon ticket counter only to find the one shuttle to the beach had left with the boat passengers (which they picked up right at the dock). Since I had been misinformed that the boat left on the hour (which it does during the summer) we did not get to go to Blue Lagoon. So, we walked to the public beach and took some back way through the "public access" to get onto the beach. Walking through some trees up a hill there were a number of locals just hanging out. I am not sure why they were there, and we quickly went by them. The beach was nice- the ocean was quite rough, but the sand was clean and there was plenty of places to sit. Leaving the beach we decided to attempt to walk through Atlantis' pool area to avoid the public access and the people. Somehow we got into the pool area- which was very nice- and made our way out through their lobby. We shared a cab with another couple and went back to the boat. We did go to the straw market - I was not impressed and did not buy anything. I was more than happy to get back on the boat and wait for our departure. In hindsight I should have booked the Blue Lagoon excursion (fellow cruisers raved about their experience there) through the ship- lesson learned.
Port Canaveral Florida- since Freeport was still without electricity we bypassed Freeport and went to Port Canaveral. After being disappointed with Nassau I was glad to skip Freeport. We booked an excursion to Universal Studios. This was pricey- double the park admission- but did include bus transportation (one hour each way). Passengers with a booked excursion were first to disembark. Since we were back in the United States we had to go through Immigrations first. The process was quick and we were on our way to Universal by 9:00. The trip was worth the money- since there is nothing immediately available in port. I heard some people took a bus ($10.00) and went to a local shopping mall.
Last day at sea- Another gorgeous day. The sun was shining the weather was warm and the ocean was calm. I could not have asked for anything better. My husband and I booked the supper club for this night. We had done this on the last cruise. The food is excellent and service superb; the atmosphere is quiet, relaxed and very romantic. This is well worth the nominal fee.
Home in Baltimore- Since we opted to self disembark we did not put our luggage out the night before. We were the first passengers called to get off the boat. I think we were walking down the gangway at 9:00 and we were home by 10:15.
I cannot say enough about cruising with Carnival; we are three for three and looking forward to our fourth in January 2006.